“Look, God is my helper; the Lord is with those who are guarding my life.”
There have been people who have been instrumental in helping my life. When I win the lottery, I am going to send a big check to all of them as a thank you. I don’t buy many lottery tickets but I do remember standing in line for tickets one time and hearing the guy behind me say to his friend, “Buddy, you have a better chance of seeing God than you do winning the lottery.”
I’m glad I have a good chance of seeing God. My chances of winning the lottery are slim to none.
Over the years, there have been people who gave me shelter, people who sent me money, people who called me, people who encouraged me in my spirit (and I cannot tell you the monetary value difference of any of those things because each one was worth a million dollars to me.) What I wish I could do was recount all the countless good deeds that family, friends and total strangers have done for me. Maybe that will be in my upcoming book.
This year, however, when I left all in Minnesota and moved to Florida, I was in a foreign land without a compass.
I’ve been in uncharted waters before. When I gave birth to my son, Garrett, I had never been a mother, much less a single mother from questionable circumstances. And to find out he was blind… and later to find out he was autistic…I seemed to always be walking in a foreign land without a compass.
I remember being eight months pregnant, near to the time of giving birth, laying on the couch in my sister’s home and crying out of fear—pure, stark-raving fear. I did now know how to give birth, I did not know how I was going to support this little being, I did not know ANYTHING.
And there, in that room, with my sister and brother nearby listening to me cry, my brother Dan spoke up. He said, “Sheryl, the Lord says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
That’s all he said. My chest collapsed, my tears flooded sideways and I cried until I did not think I could cry any more. Sigh. Big sigh… I held on to those words of hope. “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU OR FORSAKE YOU.”
And that’s when the journey began of realizing that God was not only with me, He was also with the people who were guarding my life.
When God draws a covenant with you, He never fails it. You might fail it. But he doesn’t. No point in trying to be even with God. He will always be greater. You try. You fail. You fall. You get up again. You fall. And then it seems like He starts to call in the angels to help you, people to surround you, to guard you, to help your life.
I raised my son with many sleepless nights, many tear-flooded pillows, many days of confusion because of the circumstances. I’m not stupid. I take responsibility for my own actions. But you can only take responsibility for the day. The circumstances last a lifetime. And then you have to do the best you can do.
So, while I’ve been here in Florida, there have again been people that God has brought into my life to guard my life. My cousin who gave me shelter, my family, the Gerdins who look after me, gifts from my brothers and sisters…phone calls from friends, all of them wishing me encouragement, employers who hired me, people who believed in me…. should I have been keeping a notebook? Because I sure wish I would have. High school classmates have reached out to me, reading my blogs, encouraging me to write, remembering with me. And lifetime girlfriends who keep traveling with me along this journey. Some of them I lashed out against in my own worry and still they kept loving me.
Recently, in desperation, I called on Rev. Gill, the pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church, one of the oldest black congregations in St. Paul, Minnesota, to pray for me. I just needed good old-fashioned prayer. I may have been raised a lily-white, Scandinavian Lutheran, but I defy anyone to stand still in a black, gospel preaching church, in the presence of a throaty, sweating, black gospel preacher. You will go down, slain in the Spirit. And if not that, you will at least be uplifted to the rafters and go home raising Hallelujah.
I designed the logo for Rev. Gill’s church. It wasn’t hard for me to envision the logo of Pilgrim Baptist. After taking one step into that old building on a hot and humid August day and seeing the single, circular, stained glass window high up on the crest, I saw the logo. To be sure of my design, I attended church there one Sunday just before the presidential elections when Barak Obama was up for office for the first time. I brought my son, Garrett with me.
Beautifully-dressed women wearing white gloves adorned the pews ahead of us. The choir lifted their voices and nearly lifted me out of my pew. We were all fanning ourselves for the heat and I thought, This is what is was like for all those years for black congregations. No air conditioning, no fans, just heat and perspiration. Yet they all dressed up in their Sunday finest and went to church. I wish we all had their strength, their determination, their love of tradition, their grace.
The women all came and greeted Garrett and me, shaking our hands with their white gloves and welcoming us to their church. Hardly any Lutherans do that. And when Rev. Gill started preaching… well… there was no more air in that building.
The memorable part of that day was when he starting praying for “Brother Obama, and Lord, lead him to the White House… Lord Jesus, bring that Brother in!” We were white, conservative Republicans sitting right there in a pool of African-American democrats! Garrett was so shocked, he leaned over to me and whispered, “Mom! He’s praying for Obama!” Garrett doesn’t know white or black. He’s blind. All he knows is the Scandinavian conservative upbringing that I raised him in. It wasn’t a color thing to him. It was a political thing. I didn’t know how to respond because here we all were in the house of God, for Pete’s sake! Worshipping together. How do you stay political when you are singing praises to the Lord?? So I whispered back, “Yes, he gives them hope.” It doesn’t matter how you vote in the end, it’s who brings you hope. Hope for change, hope for representation, hope for equality, hope for a better life….hope for lower taxes…
Rev. Gill responded to my call for prayer, called me back and prayed a mighty prayer for me. When he was finished, I thanked him, closed my eyes and hung up the phone. And then God gave me a word: Deuteronomy 31:6. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
There it was: that word again, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
When I contacted Rev. Gill later to share with him this word, he was so encouraged because it was actually a word for him too.
This is how God works.
I can’t explain myself and my ups and downs to my friends and family in any way that makes sense. All I can say is that I feel things so deeply, I see things so clearly, I hear things so ringing-ly, that as an artist, I can’t shut these things down. And like Icarus, sometimes I fly too closely to the sun. You can’t always deter people who fly too closely to the sun. All you can do is fly below them in the safety of the clouds and pray they make it back down to earth safely.
But here’s what I would like to pray over you. God’s promise is with you, too. Because He is with those who help someone else’s life. And if you have helped my life, I thank you, and pray for a blessing on each and every one of you. You deserve a purple heart after traveling with me. Claim his promise.