A Little Man Named Farris
One Sunday morning after the church service our Pastor asked Bill and me if we might do him a favor. He said, "I was thinking it would help me a lot if you could do this.” He said he had left very early that morning to pick up someone who had called him, wanting to come to church. “He lives at an assisted living facility for men," he continued, "and I think you pass by there on your way to church. Since its on your way if he could ride with you then I wouldn't have to leave forty minutes earlier to go and pick him up.”
That was the day we met Farris. I had noticed him that morning sitting on the front pew. Farris was a little man with a long face. He stood about five foot tall and was very thin, so thin that his pants puckered all around him at his waist. His belt was long enough to wrap half-way around him again and hung down like a limp piece of rope from his belt buckle. I couldn't help noticing how he seemed to enjoy the song service, which didn’t surprise me because the singers and musicians always did a near professional job during the worship time at that church.
We took Farris home that day for the first time. Thereafter he rode to and from each service in the back seat of our car. I had seen the ‘house’ where Farris lived and I'd thought, That is one long house! Over time we learned that Farris could dress himself and feed himself and things like that, but someone had to prepare his meals, keep his clothes clean, make his bed, run his bath water, and give him his medications although he was forty-eight years old. Farris was mentally challenged. He had been sent to the assisted home after his mother died. She was the one who had cared for Farris from the time he was born. It had just been him and his mother for most of his life.
We started the drive home one Sunday night after church when something bad happened. The home where Farris lived was on a highway and like our house it was in a very rural area. On this particular Sunday we were in a rental car because the car we had recently purchased was being checked for problems. We were driving along making small talk when Farris calmly announced, “I gotta go. I gotta go now. Find a bathroom. I gotta go. I r-e-a-l-l-y gotta go.”
Oh dear! There was still a fifteen minute drive ahead of us, but I remembered the gas station seven or eight minutes from where we were. I couldn’t just jump out of the car and knock on a stranger’s doors so Farris could go to the bathroom and anyway homes are few and far between out in the country. That’s just how it is in rural East Tennessee. I said, “Bill, you need to drive faster. Farris said he has to go NOW. Try to hurry to that gas station up the road.” So Bill drove faster and I was hoping we wouldn’t get a speeding ticket on a Sunday of all days. We didn’t need the delay anyway.
Farris grew very quiet but finally spoke two words from the back seat of the car, “Too late,” he said. And this awful smell filled out car! When Farris said he had to go he was not kidding. Farris had an accident in the back seat of that rental car. We rolled down all the car windows although it was a freezing cold Sunday night and we got Farris home that evening as fast as we could.
I was thinking, If we get stopped for speeding now the police would most likely give us a police escort to get us off the road. But we didn't get stopped.
Farris apologized as he got out of the car and we watched him walk bow legged all the way to the front door of his home. Poor Farris. Poor us. We had to do some serious cleaning and spraying on that rental car back seat before we returned it to the rental agency! Other than that one episode we didn’t mind letting Farris ride to church with us, but after that we reminded him to go to the restroom before we left the church.
Before long he was telling us, “I want to sing a song at church. I've been practicing and practicing.” I told him to talk to the Praise and Worship Leader and tell her he wanted to sing a song. I was sure she would schedule him to sing, perhaps on a Sunday evening when the services were more laid back. So Farris spoke to the Praise and Worship Leader and she said she would let him know when he could sing, but she said, “We have the specials already planned out for this month so just keep practicing.”
Every Sunday morning and every Sunday evening, Farris would tell us, “I’ve still been practicing and practicing. I hope she tells me soon when I can sing my song.” That month and another one passed and Farris was still not asked to sing his song. We were wondering why she had not gotten back with him to schedule a time for him to sing. Other people got up and sang specials now and then, but Farris was still waiting and practicing while a third month passed since he had asked to sing his song.
One day I decided I would just ask her if she had forgotten about Farris. No, she had not forgotten. She told me, “Have you looked at him? REALLY looked? Do you think HE looks like he should be up there with the team I’ve put together? People will laugh at him. And they’ll laugh at me too, for letting him up there to make a bigger idiot out of himself than he already is.”
I could not believe what I knew I had heard! She thought Farris was too lowly and plain and different looking to stand before the congregation and sing one song. By the time she’d said her piece and walked away I was mad. Really mad! And disturbed. Bill wasn’t standing with us at the time she was saying all this, but I knew I would tell him about my conversation with the woman after we dropped Farris off at his home.
As we took Farris home after the service that day he said, “They didn’t even have a special singer today. I kept thinking she would ask me to sing. Looks like it would have been a good time for me to sing.” He was looking out the window, talking more to himself than to Bill and me.
Bill told him, “Farris, it looks like we’re just going to have to request that you sing your song.” And I thought, Yes! That is exactly what we can do. One of us can make a special REQUEST for Farris to sing that song that he has practiced and practiced. And that’s what happened, the very next Sunday morning. Now let me make it clear, I don’t believe in coincidences, but I don’t think it was an accident that the Pastor finished his sermon a little sooner than usual, then said, “Does anyone have any announcements or anything you’d like to say before we dismiss?” That was out of the ordinary for him. I won’t say it was divinely arranged, but who knows?
Before I could think about what to say Bill was on his feet. Now you need to understand that my husband has a voice that carries. I have always told him, “Bill, if you’d been a preacher, you would have never needed a microphone. Everyone would hear you without one.” I mean his voice is really a boomer.
He said, “Pastor, there is a man here who I know has been practicing a special song for months now and never got to get up and sing it. I’d like to request that Farris sing that song for us.”
The Pastor smiled real big and said, “Is that true, Farris? Would you like to sing a special for us? ” Farris broke into the biggest smile and shook his head indicating a yes. Then the Pastor said, “Well, come on up here and sing for us, Farris.” Farris stood and walked up on the stage looking down at the floor the whole time he was walking up there. He pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket, cleared his throat and began singing. Farris had a good singing voice. I was shocked and impressed. But he sang a song that most children learn at an early age. He sung, “He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the whole wide world, in his hands. He’s got the whole world in his hands.” Then Farris went through all the different little choruses to that children’s song: "He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands…. He’s got you and me, brother, in his hands…He’s got you and me, sister, in his hands…He’s got all of us here, in his hands, He’s got the whole world in his hands.”
The Praise and Worship Leader did not accompany him with music. I could tell it was deliberate. Farris sang his whole song and all its choruses without as much as a piano cord to accompany his song. But that little man sang his heart out that Sunday morning and by the time he finished there was not a dry eye in that room! The people knew Farris. They knew he was different, but him singing his song touched them that day more than the sermon had and definitely more than the Praise and Worship team had. Everyone patted him on the back that Sunday morning and told him how much they had enjoyed his song and it just seemed to me that Farris stood a couple of inches taller after he sang his song that day.
A few weeks later our phone rang one Saturday and it was Farris telling us he was being moved to another facility. He said, “You don’t need to pick me up any more. I won’t be here.” He didn’t know where they were moving him and we never could find out where he was moved to. The people at the home near us said they thought he had been transferred to one of the facilities in the big city of Knoxville. Soon after that the home where Farris had lived was closed down.
As it turned out the Pastor knew the Praise Leader had not intended to let Farris sing his song. He said he left all the decision making to that one woman when it concerned the Worship time of the service.
We hope someone continued taking Farris to church somewhere. He loved to go to church. Since we wouldn’t be driving Farris to and from church any more, we started hunting for another church. After what happened about Farris and his song, we knew people had to ‘audition’ to sing there and they had to look and sound professional. But since neither my husband nor I was into ‘performances’ at churches we moved on too. We decided if we wanted to see a performance we’d go to one of the dinner shows in our area.
I think it was because of that little man named Farris that we came to really understand what the 'praise and worship' time should be about in church.