Our third and final interview for this “Interview With A Volunteer” series made the largest impact on me, the interviewer, during our discussion. Sherry told me a story that I was not prepared for. After getting to know her for some time, I knew that her life was an interesting journey. I was not prepared for what I learned about her faith, her childhood, or her perseverance in this lifetime. She is a fantastic Listener, but now I feel like I understand why her goal is to inspire hope in others. If you have ever spoken to Sherry as a Sharer, you will know that her kindness and warmth is uplifting. Now, you know exactly where that kindness comes from.
This story is a reminder in how important it is to share with others. Your story can change somebody’s life, just like Sherry’s changed mine.
Sherry is 55 years old. She started our interview telling me about her daughter’s wedding and how serendipitous it was. Her wedding was supposed to be in a venue but ended up at a park. Sherry said it was probably the most beautiful wedding she has ever been to. This is where I learned that Sherry did an incredible job telling stories about her life, and made you feel like you were in her shoes experiencing these things.
“My new job is relaxing compared to my old job. Plus I have more time for my projects.”
She is a Tax Accountant for a water utility company. She used to be the head of the tax department for the Circle K stores. It had gotten out of hand and was really stressful, so she took her current job to calm down and destress. She now doesn’t have to manage anyone but herself, and she loves it.
For fun, Sherry upcycles furniture on the side.
“I don’t own a piece of furniture that has not been upcycled. I will change it, refinish it, paint it, and make it my own.”
She also does this for other people and for resale. She loves to create things.
She showed me the doors in her home and how she made them sliding doors. Her tables and chairs are also painted. Most recently, the last project she finished was a table from 1880 that she got from an auction.
“I got it for $30 and completely refinished it, drove it to Georgia, and now it is in my daughter’s new dining room.”
This year, they were going to go to Connecticut for flea market hopping but it’s been canceled due to the coronavirus.
I asked Sherry to tell me more about her childhood, and her story changed my life. I had no idea when I sat down for this hour-long conversation that I would leave with a greater appreciation for my health, my faith, and my circumstances.
She describes the overall experience of her childhood as being challenging. She described her father as an abusive narcissist who became a pastor in her teen years. In her house, things were different than they were outside. Growing up was very difficult, and she had to be perfect outside the house. Be perfect, act perfect, and dress perfectly. He was never physically abusive toward her mother, but Sherry would get the brunt of everything. He was also very sick physically, which added to a lot of excusing his behavior.
She had an incredible experience with God when she was young, and it was the only thing that got her through her childhood. There were many times she came close to taking her own life because of the abuse. However, her encounters with God taught her that we are all a vessel for God to pour into.
“People are not perfect but God always is.” She said.
She knows more about her father than anyone. Many people don’t know how he really was. He helped many people with his ministry. So she truly believes that God can use each of us, even if we are “cracked” in some way. God allowed her to see that her father was “cracked,” and now she has been able to forgive him and move forward in her Faith.
“He used to put me on stage to sing like a trained monkey. I would have to sit through sermons where my Father would use me as an example without my permission, and he exaggerated. Basically, I would have to take the brunt of whatever example he used me as with the congregation.”
Aside from upcycling furniture, Sherry loves to sing. She has been singing since she was 3, but she doesn’t really see it as a hobby. It’s more of a ministry. She has been on a worship team for her entire life. She has found that she is very lucky because many worship teams don’t have older people sing, but she is always included. She was on the team for CCV (one of the largest megachurches in the country) and she was the oldest person on the team!
She says that it was a lot of pressure but it strengthened her faith in the way that she looks at things and people in the church. A lot of people see hypocrisy, and say “I don’t want anything to do with God because that person is a hypocrite.” She says it allowed her to see past her father and see people are flawed. People will let you down. But God never will.
When Sherry was 8, her dad was in Vietnam and had been sent to the war. He was away and it was just her and her mom. Sherry kept getting sick (mumps, measles, rubella, etc.) and her mother kept taking her to the hospital, and they would treat whatever illness she had.
One day, she passed out at her friend’s house across the street. They started to look at why she was getting so sick and running more tests.
“It turned out that I had a rare form of leukemia called sickle-cell leukemia. This was rare because I am caucasian. By the time they caught it, I was in stage 4 – and this was before chemo and bone marrow transplants. I stayed at the military hospital for a few weeks before moving to [a hospital in] Montgomery, Alabama. I stayed there and had a team of doctors that took blood from me every day. I was dying, so they called my father to come back from the war.”
One evening, her parents were staying at a little hotel away from the hospital and she was alone in her room – no hospital-mates or anything, just the TV. She was watching the television and the next thing she knows, there was a beautiful African American nurse to the left of her.
“It seemed that she just appeared – I didn’t see her come in. She was doing her routine nurse things and she said to me ‘How are you feeling today?’ I said ‘I’m okay, I’m just tired.’ The nurse said ‘God wants you to know that he loves you, and you’re special, and you’re going to be okay.’ I said, in a sassy way because I was a sassy kid, ‘I know’.” Sherry chuckled.
“– Then she [the nurse] was gone. I was a little freaked out, but I was really at peace with everything. The next morning, my mom came into the room and said my face had color in it. I remember that I had tons of energy. I told my mom about the nurse.”
Her mom was really happy that someone had given Sherry hope in her time of need. “My mom went out to the nurse’s station as for the nurse that came into my room the night before. She wanted to thank the nurse who gave me hope. My mom described the nurse, and the lady told her that nobody that works at that hospital fits the description.” Frustrated, Sherry’s mother persisted. Finally, the lady at the nurse station said “Maam, we do not have black nurses that work in this hospital. We are in Alabama.”
The same night as the mysterious nurse visit, the small church Sherry’s family attended back in Mississippi held an all-night prayer session for her.
The next morning, doctors took her blood. Her leukemia was gone and has never returned.
“God sent me an angel and that incident solidified my faith in God. I knew at that point, that God was real regardless of what I had experienced in life. I knew God. I knew at a young age that God loved me, and He was still there.”
She said – “I would rather be wrong and have lived a life full of hope and faith, and be a good person than get to the end and find myself in a position where I spent my life with no faith and in misery. I would rather live as if there is a God than live with no God.”
I could hear Sherry’s desire to help others in her voice. She is very matter of fact. I asked her which Listen.One community initiative she identified with the most.
“A few of them. Addiction is a big one. My husband is a recovering alcoholic. We have been married for 24 years and he has his 90-day chip right now. It is something that we have struggled with our whole marriage.” She has been a member of Ala-non for two years.
“Loneliness; I was an only child who was also a military child. We lived in 13 different places growing up, so I just tried to stop making friends eventually. This is why I always want to talk to younger people too. My house was always full of young airmen (18-19 years old) for the holidays, so I was always around men from all over the world. Then my father became a pastor – so we would always have teenagers in the house. I feel like I really know young adults well because I have always been around them.”
“People forget that this generation is a lot different than our generation. I was born in the last year of the baby boomer generation and I don’t act like a baby boomer. I am definitely a Gen-X-er.”
“There is nothing about Millennials or Generation Z that we went through. It is just not the same, so you can’t compare them.”
I asked Sherry why she decided to become a Listener.
“I became a Listener because I have a burden for young people – nobody is listening to them. Lots of people are talking to them.”
She said the Lord laid it on her heart late last year that she NEEDED to do something. She didn’t know what, but she needed to figure it out.
“I found Listen.One and said I wanted to host an event at the First Friday Art Walk in AZ. I asked if they could give me any tips to get started. Miraculously Listen.One was in the Phoenix area also, so within a week I met Jodi (Dave’s wife) and a Listener at a coffee shop.”
They had their very first Listen.One sponsored event at the First Friday in February. Then the pandemic hit – but Sherry said it feels like it all happened for a reason – because she put lots of Listen.One cards (with our contact information) in people’s hands.
Her favorite part about being a volunteer is connecting with people. She has grown up with being around so many diverse people – her dad in the military – and Phoenix is so diverse.
“Phoenix is so large that there are cultural differences throughout the city. I love people. God made us all and we all have value. There are so many people that are sad and hopeless, and everyone needs hope. I want to give hope to people – or at least make them feel better.”
I asked Sherry what challenges she faces as a Listener. “Just knowing what to say in any given situation. There are times where I type and retype a message several times before sending it because I’m not exactly sure how to respond. Or I will stop and ask God for the words I need to say.”
She said sometimes she’ll get several responses that she wasn’t expecting, and she realizes that there is more to what they are saying and can see the wounds are deeper than they are.
I asked about her favorite part of her role as a listener.
“Same thing. People are funny. People are strange.”
For her other hobbies, she loves to watch movies and go to the movies alone. It’s one of her more relaxing activities. She loves to hike and be outside as well. She lives in AZ, so she has to drive pretty far to find weather that supports it in the Summer, but she says it is always worth it.