KEEPING IT REAL
LRE: Cheri, share with us a little about how God found you and brought you to Himself.
CP: I love this church. We have so much to offer, but we need to learn how to talk with the lost. I came to the church right off the streets. I had been homeless for ten years. I was on the streets in LA when I was 13 years old, picked up immediately by people that use kids. I was a drug addict. I came from a family of addicts. My dad died in a crack house, one sister works as a stripper, and my aunt is a methamphetamine addict, and both my grandparents died in their addictions. I came with serious issues: ten years of working in clubs and struggling on heroin. More could be said, but you get the idea.
When God Himself led me into an Adventist church at age 23, He said, “This is your family. This is where you’ll do your recovery.” But when I looked around, I wanted to throw myself on the ground and cry, “Are you kidding me? They’re not even dealing with their own issues!” I was amazed at how much Bible-knowledge people had, but I also saw a lot of dysfunction in the church.
LRE: How did you get interested in the Adventist church in the first place?
CP: I met Christ soon after a drug deal that went wrong. I had been freebasing drugs for five or six days and had crashed. I woke up with a gun in my face and this guy screaming that he was going to blow my head off. When I realized what was happening, I can’t tell you what peace came over me. I told him, “You know what? I’ve wanted to die my whole life. Please! Pull the trigger!” His reaction was, “Are you crazy?” But I had seen such ugly stuff, it would make you want to vomit. I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to stand up one more day and try to figure out how I’m going to survive, where I’m going to sleep, where I can be safe.”
It was about how she was molested by her father as a kid. Her mom was an alcoholic. She wasn’t really loved by anybody. She was given up when she was five. She had no stable relationships. So my mom had this really disjointed kind of childhood, too."
The turning point came a few days later in the midst of a suicide attempt. I suddenly saw a paper my mother had given me. She wrote it for a class she was taking. It was about how she was molested by her father as a kid. Her mom was an alcoholic. She wasn’t really loved by anybody. She was given up when she was five. She had no stable relationships. So my mom had this really disjointed kind of childhood, too. When she met my father she was 13 years old. At 14 she was pregnant. She had three kids in as many years. In this paper she said, “The only reason I survived is that I took out all my hatred and anger on my second child, and I ruined her life.” I was that child! All of a sudden I felt like God said, “This was never about you, and if you trust Me I can change your life.” I just started sobbing. A motorcycle gang had kidnapped me when I was 14. They had picked up three girls from the street to use for initiation for new members. The treatment we endured was horrible. I remember saying to God, “Look at me! I’m struggling on heroin. I have teeth missing from being beaten up. I’m almost illiterate. I’ve never done anything in my life that was of any value. I have nothing to offer!”
Then I felt like God showed me a little glimpse of what I would be the day after resurrection—a beautiful, innocent child. There was no needle in my arm! I just cried and said, “God, I’ve never been beautiful or innocent or had any value to anybody.” And I felt like God said, “I’ve never seen you any other way. You are My child, and if you trust Me, that’s where I’m taking you.” I had a hope that I’d never had before! I didn’t know how I was going to get there but God said, “Stand up and follow Me into recovery.”
I thought, “How crazy is this? How can I stand up?” But I literally stood up and walked out of the drug house. I called around and asked, “Is there any place I can go and just do recovery?” A guy referred me to his sister. When I got to her house, I found them waiting for the Sabbath to come. I walked in and the peace was unbelievable. My whole life I had longed for a normal family doing normal things. This place was like a dream. But I was a mess, coming off drugs. I asked her, “Do you have coffee?” She said, “No.” “Do you have tea?” “No.” “Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, chocolate, sugar? Anything?” She said, “I have water.” And I said, “I can’t stomach water!” She smiled, “Did it take you a while to get used to tequila?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Water’s like that. You’ll get used to it.” When she told me she was vegan I almost laughed out loud. I thought, “Is this hell? When you’re really bad in this life, you have to spend the rest of your days with a vegan?” But she was delightful.
She just loved me. She began by giving me water and healthy food. She listened to every tragic story I told. I wanted to shock her and catch her judging me, but she didn’t do that. She gave me a safe place to process. She loved me. And I “fell in love” with her. She told me about the woman caught in adultery. I learned how Jesus wrote her accusers’ sins in the sand and yet He didn’t call anybody out in front of anyone. He didn’t shame them. I just wanted to weep, “Is it true? There’s a God who looks at all my junk and all the ugliness in my life and says ‘I am covering you with my robe of righteousness? You’re forgiven because of what I’ve done. You’re covered?’” I knew the stuff I’d done. I knew how ugly and dark it was. I thought, “If there’s a God who not only wants to save us but also wants to protect us from being shamed and is willing to ‘cover’ all that for us, then I’m sold! I’m sold!”
LRE: How can the church become a friend like that?
CP: We normally pull away when we don’t know what to say. For example, I may not know what to say if you lose a loved one, so I’ll avoid you. But, if I learn what to say, I’ll be right there! Often those in the church don’t know how to do friendship ministry—how to talk with people about these issues. Our organization, True Step Ministries (trueStep.org), has developed a program called "Celebrating Life in Recovery" that teaches how to establish a friendship group where these kinds of things can be discussed and brought to God for healing.
LRE: Is this where the church should begin?
CP: I think first of all, it’s important that we in the church experience our own healing. Sometimes we act like we’re afraid to process this with each other. We keep it to ourselves, and we’re dying inside. People need a place where it’s safe to say out loud: “I’m wounded. I’ve been through a lot. I’m stressed. I’m working too much. I get lost in porn.” Or whatever. We need to hear what God can do with that, who Jesus is, what repentance, confession, prayer and forgiveness are, and how He gives us victory through Christ’s death. When we’ve been healed, we can tell others what He’s done for us.
LRE: This has been helpful. What message would you like to leave for our readers to consider?
CP: We do need to reach out to others, but we need to learn to dialogue with each other as well. If we don’t, we’re hindering our mission to the world. So my wish is that we heal. We are the church—each of us. We need to honestly surrender to God the pain and hurt in our lives—the anger, the resentment, and the addictions. We need to allow Him to bring healing and then 'brag on Him' about how it was done!