THE LEGACY OF CHERI'
Without having to ask Cheri, I knew that her Legacy would include her Faith and Love for Jesus. Her list of rough trials is much longer then what she shares with us today... But it gives you a good idea of what the last few years have been like. What makes her story so beautiful, is that Cheri' continues to Glorify Christ in her darkest days... She trusts in God with such strength and her Love for Jesus radiates. She is so courageous as to cry out to the Lord to use her life to Glorify Him- What a fire this puts in my heart.
Cheri will be known for loving Christ and making His name known.
Cheri', was there a special time in your life when your faith sustained you in a time of crisis?
It wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve really experienced much in the way of crisis in my life. I’d been pretty fortunate that way. I received a diagnosis last December that has really thrown our world upside down. From the impact on my health, the changes in quality of life (though at this point they are pretty minor, thank God) to the overwhelming weight of mounting medical bills, we are definitely trenching through a winter, so to speak. Standing in the mist of my biggest valley has allowed my faith to really take shape. It’s being put to the test and that’s both terrifying and exciting at the same time. I have learned more about who GOD is in the last 3 years than the last 30 years of my life. While my future and health are a huge question mark right now, I’m so grateful that he has led me on a path that has drawn me closer to Him. Because it’s on this dark, scary journey that I learned not only who HE is but who I am. The daughter of a King. I am someone who will never walk the tough road alone. I am someone who has a warrior on her side that is mightier than any circumstance. I think it’s true for most people, when looking back on their spiritual journey, that it’s in the deepest valleys and the darkest days that our faith becomes its strongest. There’s a song out right now by Tauren Wells called Hills and Valleys and it has pretty much become my mantra.
Cheri', can you tell us about your illness?
I was diagnosed with an auto immune disease called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis in December 2016. It’s a disease in which your own anti bodies attack your bile ducts. Over time you end up in this cycle of being attacked and then healing yourself. Each time that happens you build up scar tissue. As that scar tissue builds, bile ducts become narrowed. As a result, you begin to experience liver damage. I currently have a Level 1 Liver Fibrosis which is considered mild. Unfortunately, this is an extremely complicated disease in which there is no treatment. Nothing to prevent future damage. Nothing to slow it down. The cure, or only chance of a cure, is a liver transplant. However, that does not guarantee the disease will not reoccur. The outlook for liver/life expectancy is 15 years from diagnosis. The disease can be rapid or, for the really lucky ones, benign. Meaning I could take a turn for the worse and end up with liver failure in 2 years or I could go the rest of my life with nothing more than minor aches, pains. Currently my biggest symptoms are fatigue, itchy skin, occasional upper abdominal pain and what we call brain fog. For me the scariest part of this disease is the likelihood of a decline in quality of life or even worse yet, the possibility of my son losing his mom at a young age and leaving my husband to pick up the pieces.
Cheri' has your illness changed you? What have you learned?
It has changed me and continues to change me. Physically, I’m less active. I fatigue much quicker which is really humbling as I have always been extremely active. Mentally however, the change has been the hardest. I used to be proud that I had a pretty solid mind. I was quick to pick up on new things, I didn’t need a calendar to keep my days straight or pay my bills. I was known for being reliable and quick witted. I was creative, well still am, but only in bursts now. These were all qualities that gave me my identity. They made me who I was. In the short time since the diagnosis, and really the months leading up to it, these qualities have been stripped away one by one. I’m no longer as reliable as I had been and have to have everything in my calendar or I will absolutely forget. I tend to make more mistakes, or forget important things that I never would have before. I find reading and digesting material, which used to come easily, to be difficult and frustrating. Group discussion I have come to dislike as I find it hard to collect my thoughts in a way that I can communicate well. Or I’m too tired to engage at all. There was a period of about 4 months where I was incapable of creating. Being creative is what gives me energy, what inspires, calms and focuses me. Losing the qualities that have given me my identity for the last 35 years has at times, left me feeling inadequate, closed off and just a little lost. I’m adjusting to the new norm and so is my family but it has definitely been a huge struggle.
Cheri', Tell us a story about how a prayer was answered.
My son, Zeke, was born at 31 weeks and 5 days. The day he was born we knew we’d be spending a long while in the NICU while he put on some weight and learned those very important skills like breathing, sucking and swallowing. From the moment he joined us earth side we knew he was strong. He never needed oxygen, he was only on CPAP for 12 hours and he weighed a whopping 4lbs 5oz. All of which is pretty remarkable on its own. If you’re wondering, that is a great size and a strong set lungs for a 31 weeker. There was a lot of praying happening in that NICU room. Lots of tears and lots of pleads to God that we could leave the NICU quickly and with a very healthy baby.
Zeke excelled at everything, appeared to have no lasting medical issues but the days did drag on. Finally after 28 very long days, God was answering our prayers and we were being released from the NICU. While the nurses got our discharge packet ready I sat there holding my sweet baby and beaming ear to ear. Then, I heard the awful sound that no NICU parent likes to hear. Zeke’s monitors were alarming. His oxygen was low and it was resolving. Now, the reality is, it was probably a loose lead. However, the nurse couldn’t say for sure. So instead of her finishing up our discharge paperwork she explained that when this happened you earn an automatic 3 day stay for observation. I was devastated. I had to call my poor husband who was rushing to the hospital from work with the great news of breaking out, and tell him we weren’t going anywhere. I was so angry. (3 days doesn’t seem like a long time to most of us, but those NICU days were some of the longest days of my life). We thought God had finally answered only to feel as if He were toying with our emotions.
The next 3 days were long but uneventful and the day of our discharge finally came. Zeke would be leaving the NICU after 31 days. But, we also got a big surprise on that 31st day. We learned that if you stay 31 days or more in the NICU you then qualify for state assistance. For us that meant Zeke’s entire hospital stay was covered. We did not pay a dime of it. A stress that plagued us, however I never once prayed for financial assistance. I only prayed for the health of my boy. The medical assistance also covered Zeke’s entire 1st year of life. Every copay, every prescription, every doctors visit (including a seizure scare involving EEG’s and MRI’s) was all covered. Just for a frame of reference…We stopped tallying the medical bills once our kiddo reached a quarter million dollars.
God answers our prayers in ways we never dreamt of asking. Prayers that were never even spoken. In the very moment I felt God had forsaken us, he was working all things for our good. That is just so like Him. He sees your prayers and he raises you a miracle.
A couple months back I was driving home from work listening to a Christian radio station. The radio host quoted Spurgeon saying, “Is it not a curious thing that whenever God means to make a man great, He always first breaks him in pieces?” A little context…For years I have prayed for God to move in my life. To awaken my soul. To change me in a supernatural way. I am, what I would call, your typical American Christian. I went through the motions. Did my duties of attending church, paying tithes, praying, doing bible studies and even volunteering with the church. I did all the “right” things but I did them out of duty, not love. I was always jealous of the new Christians who had that fire in their belly. Why had I never felt that? I was exactly what the bible warns us not to be. Luke warm. I was tired of being stagnant. Living the status quo. I wanted to be moved. To become someone Christ could use in his ministry. And I prayed for the that all time. Almost every time I came to God, I prayed for that change. No matter what it took, I wanted it. I wanted that awakening in my soul that couldn’t be ignored. One that could only be the God given presence of the Holy Spirit.
So here I am at my most lost and broken and God is speaking to me through a radio host. It was as if he were saying, “I know this is hard. I know it’s uncomfortable. I know it’s scary. But child, Trust. Be patient. Let me work.” So that is what I’m trying to do. Trust. Be patient. And let God do His thing. I have so much hope in my God that he will take the worst, most devastating event in my life and use it for his glory. My job right now is to let go of who I think I am, or was, and be open and obedient to who HE is designing me to be.