A good start: Pastor, community, pull together to help out-of-state couple

July 2009 Posted in Community


By Brenna Wiegand

David and Lisa Ehrlich had their wedding at Silver Falls State Park aided by the efforts of local folks, many they’d never met.

The story of Lisa Wertz and David Ehrlich isn’t one of “boy meets girl” so much as of two adults who find each other after decades of loneliness and pain.

The Eureka, Calif., couple, she 38; he 52, were glad just to have found each other. Neither had been married previously. However, much more was in store. The love poured into their lives by a pastor and his flock and small band of good Samaritians 400 miles away would touch their hearts and redefine their view of God – and faith.

David used to ask God why he couldn’t find a mate.

“I had a good job and I’m a decent, hardworking man who respects women,” he said. “There is a phenomenon in Eureka I call the ‘Bad Boy Syndrome’: Dress like a slob and treat women like dirt and still they go after you. I’m not like that.”

He even considered moving away. Thankfully he didn’t.

“God made Lisa and me for each other,” he said. “We had to wait until the time was right.”

Lisa feared no one would ever want her due to a childhood in which that feeling was made painfully clear. Nonetheless, for the past 14 years, Lisa has assumed the care of her mother, who suffered through dementia and terminal cancer until her death last December. This was complicated in 1998 when Lisa was permanently disabled  when her car was struck from behind. Her injuries included a broken lower back, whiplash and multiple injuries to her left arm and leg.

When her mother’s condition worsened beyond Lisa’s abilities, she felt she had no choice but to place her in a state-run nursing home, where she died a month later. It hardly seemed the time strike up a relationship; she felt her life was falling apart, but was intrigued by this tall, good man who didn’t run from such a challenging situation.

“I knew from the start that she was the one,” he said.

That spring, a newly engaged David and Lisa paid a visit to his relatives in Salem, taking in Silver Falls State Park while in the vicinity.

“I knew from the get-go that was the place to get married,” said Lisa.

Back home, Lisa surfed the Internet for someone to perform the ceremony. She resonated with what Pastor Jerry Stevens had to say on the Web site for Creekside Community Church in Silverton. The small flock was formed in 2002 and held Sunday services at a local grade school.

“I met with David and Lisa and fell in love with them immediately,” Stevens said of the couple, who contacted him last summer. “They’ve been through a lot and really love each other. They are young in the faith but very eager to grow.”

But as their June 27 wedding approached, Stevens was dismayed at learning how precarious the couple’s situation had become. David’s hours had been cut back and Lisa was on the verge of losing her home. She’d be lucky if one of her three siblings came to her wedding. Friends were few; the one who was going to walk her down the aisle backed out because of financial difficulties.

With David’s family in Salem, the pair decided to pursue their dream of a waterfall wedding, but were determined not to begin their life together by going into debt over it. It became a “do-it-yourself” affair, Lisa enrolling in cake-decorating classes at a craft store where she hatched the idea to further cut costs by using plastic flowers. Afterward, she’d donate them to the nursing home to “brighten the place up.”

Lisa and her maid of honor set out for a Scotts Mills campground in an SUV loaded to the gills with camping gear, plastic flowers and cake-decorating paraphernalia; David would come along with the cake a week later.

“My wedding dress was laid out like a dead animal up to the ceiling over all the camping stuff,” Lisa said. “Whenever we’d open the tailgate, it would start falling out.”

Meanwhile, Stevens began contacting family and friends for help making a wedding for this eager couple, using a novel line of reasoning.

His e-mail laid out the couple’s situation, including the latest: Lisa had left the campground due to overflowing outhouses brought on by a downpour; no refund issued. Then Stevens asked:

“Wasn’t Silverton voted one of America’s top 10 ‘Coolest Small Towns?’” (Budget Travel Magazine, April 2009)

“Isn’t it UNCOOL to have plastic flowers & frozen cake at a wedding?”

Jerry and Debi Stevens were joined by others, many who were present at a barbecue given in the couple’s honor two days before the wedding. There, Jerry’s dad offered to walk Lisa down the aisle.

They were treated to a photo shoot, professional hair styling, fresh bouquets and a real-live wedding singer. The reception at South Falls Picnic Shelter B was filled with music, a spread that included smoked tri-tip, gifts from people they didn’t know, and a beautiful, freshly made cake. Monetary gifts enabled them to stay in motels instead of their tent during a scenic Oregon honeymoon.

“This is what being a Christian is about,” David said. “Lisa was so touched by that love that in Coos Bay she made a commitment to the Lord, that he would be her Savior. I also recommitted myself to the Lord.”

There will be challenges ahead for the newlyweds; Lisa loses a disability check and her medical insurance because she’s married. 

But they know they’re not alone in the world. 

The demonstration of loving care for the Ehrlichs was a finale of sorts for the Creekside Community Church family, which officially closed its doors June 14, though they remain a community “in a very fluid way,” Stevens said.

“After seven years, God wanted us to do one more outreach – and he allowed us to go out with a bang,” he added.


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