A Conversation With Heidi Butler
Heidi Butler’s testimony is so moving that we cannot help but recognize her transformation as a miracle of God. She exudes life, love, and laughter, and she is a joy to all who have the pleasure of meeting her.
Heidi talked to us at the Branson Re-Store, which she manages for CORE. She also was instrumental last December in putting together our holiday give-away at the Hollister School District. “My heart was all there,” she says, thinking of her own humble beginnings. As a child she had been blessed by the kindness of others:
It was such a healing thing for me to be part of something that I had been on the receiving end before. I was the kid that the churches brought gifts to. So to be able to be part of this, where parents came in and picked out things their kids wanted and took them home and wrapped them, it was healing. It was so rewarding for me to be able to be part of that.
Heidi’s done a marvelous job with the thrift store too. The decor surrounding us is eclectic, with mixed patterns and textures that resist traditional sensibilities. Yet the arrangements unmistakably reflect her personality, suggesting home and love. The unique collection of items is a fitting backdrop for her story, which she began with memories of a bohemian father who could never manage to stay in one place for very long.
“I lived in a school bus when living in one wasn’t ‘cool.’ Who does that? Who lives in the woods in deer cabins when you don’t even know who owns them? My father. With four children. We’d make homes wherever we were.”
Heidi’s alcoholic mother abandoned the family when Heidi was in the second grade, essentially leaving her in charge. “I’ve been a mother ever since,” she says. So Heidi cooked and cleaned, dragging a chair to the kitchen counter to do kitchen work and dishes. She remembers making spaghetti with barbeque sauce once because that’s all the family had to eat.
Although the family was poor, Heidi took special interest in making good appearances. In particular, she made up her mind that nobody would make fun of them because of the way they looked. “I got up early and fixed [my sisters’] hair. I always was scrounging around for clothes. We always looked good.” Local churches stepped in from time to time, like on holidays, to help. But for the most part the family was on its own. In the ninth grade Heidi took a job to help them make ends meet – all in addition to school and family responsibilities.
But for an accident of circumstances, Heidi may never have been introduced to drugs. After high school, she worked for a telephone company in Arkansas and soon enough became a telecommunications engineer. She married and had two children. By the time she turned thirty-something, Heidi was living the life of a typical, suburban soccer mom, a long way off from her common roots. She never cared for alcohol, and she knew nothing about illicit substances. Unfortunately, her world was about to be turned upside-down.
Her second pregnancy had complications, resulting in multiple surgeries. Heidi was prescribed pain pills. Within a short time she was hooked. “One day I realized it had been six weeks and thought, I don’t need these. Then the next day I felt really bad.” Her first thought was, “I’m not healed,” but a trip to the doctor revealed something else.
Her physician advised her to go cold-turkey and get off the medication. It was easier said than done. “I tried it, and that did not work. It was amazing,” she said. Then the obsession kicked in. “I lay there in bed thinking, I can’t do this, I’ve got to have something. Then I remembered, my friend just had surgery, I bet she has some.”
What followed was a five-year nightmare in search of pills. Driven by obsession, Heidi applied all her instincts in pursuit of her addiction, “a whole nasty web of deception, lies, and manipulation.” Heidi eventually entered a thirty-day treatment program. Upon completing it she was confronted with two, new crises. Her husband wanted a divorce, and her employer was shipping her job off to India.
At this point Heidi clearly was headed for disaster, although she did not realize it at the time. She left for Nebraska for a fresh start but became disillusioned, homesick, and desperately missing her children. A chance meeting on Facebook with an old highschool sweetheart seemed to offer hope. She returned home to Arkansas, and they married shortly thereafter. The marriage was not the answer.
The new spouse had a drinking problem. He also used methamphetamines, which soon became a problem for Heidi. Within two months Heidi was full blown into an addiction to meth. Her life was spiraling out of control.
Significantly, Heidi was almost completely isolated by this time. She had nobody to talk to about the “thoughts that went on in my mind when I put drugs into my body,” and those thoughts were dark. Her relationship with her husband became more toxic as he became more abusive. She wasn’t working, had no social contacts, and had been cut off from her children. With her entire world imploding, Heidi decided that it would be best for everybody if she just ended it all. It somehow sounded polite to her, and she didn’t know what else to do. Her only guidance was her own meth-corrupted thinking:
“I didn’t want my kids when asked, how’s your mom doing, to have to make up some story, like she’s off working somewhere or whatever. It would be better off them being young saying, my mom died. I knew I was going to be locked up. Instead of them saying she was in a mental ward, they could just say, she died.”
There was an old shotgun in the house. Enough was enough. With calm resolve, she picked up the loaded gun and walked out onto the patio so as not to make a mess. Pointing it at her face, she pulled the trigger. Click.
In that instant things looked undeniably bleak for her. But, as she came to understand later, Heidi Butler has an awesome God. He’s always on time, never late. God arrived for her in the moment she hit rock bottom, the only point she could be reached – when inside of herself she had given up and abandoned reliance upon herself and upon all things human.
The gun didn’t fire, either. Overwrought, she fled her home and ended up in Hollister. Finding a church, Heidi sat in the back of the sanctuary sobbing. “I know it was God who pushed me,” she says. A woman seeing her distress went to her:
“She came in the back and handed me a napkin and said, you look like you could use a hug. That’s the first hug I’d had in – I can’t tell you. I cried like a baby. So she took me out to the lobby and said, I know you have a story. I poured it out to her, I didn’t leave anything out.”
Even better, the woman had a helpful idea for what Heidi should do. As the two had lunch together later, she told Heidi there was a place for her to go that was close, right down the road. It was a year-long addiction recovery program called CORE.
At CORE Heidi blossomed into the woman of God she was meant to be. She arrived to find like-minded people with whom she had a connection, who had been there before. She was impressed by the simple gestures of kindness shown upon her arrival, such as her house manager offering her a meal. “I’ll never forget that, ever,” she says. Heidi initially made a personal commitment to stay for four months, which enabled her “to start doing the things they told me to do.” That entailed doing the Twelve Steps, which saved her life. When the four months were up, she says, “I couldn’t believe the changes. And I wasn’t ready to leave.”
Heidi discovered that the Steps weren’t simply about healing from addiction but were a program for life. She found balance and learned how to take care of herself. She also reached out to her children, and she became an important part of their lives again. She grew in her love for the Lord and eventually was asked to become a house manager. Heidi ended up running three separate houses, and she acted as a mentor in CORE’s EDGE program for young adults. And then one day CORE’s Program Director Kevin Hunt called with a job proposal:
He said, would you be interested in working at the [Branson] thrift store? I was like, wow, I’ve never done anything like that before. I said yes. I just knew it was the right thing to do. I started working for CORE in August 2019.
Still later, Heidi began running the Branson store when CORE opened our new Hollister location. She could have gone back to her old career, but she decided to stay here. “I’m here because I’m happy,” she smiles, “I have joy in my life. It’s fulfilling and important. I get to mentor these women and give back what was given to me. I always want to give back to the newcomer who comes in. I’m able to give back, and still have contact with clients.”
Perhaps best of all, Heidi’s children now live locally because their father relocated to Hollister. “If they had stayed in Arkansas, I don’t know what God’s plan would have been for me. But I was here, right where I needed to be.” So by happy circumstance, her children are now here too, and she is able to be with them all the time. She concludes, “God just had his hand in all this – my story.”