Sometimes it's hard, even now, to look back at where I came from. I was the second child of teenage parents who struggled with addictions, pain, and dysfunction. They were unable to love me or provide a safe environment for my siblings and me. Because of her own brokenness, my mom survived by taking out her hatred and anger on me. My dad was caught molesting me the first time when I was three months old. I have no idea what it feels like to be in a normal house with parents who love you or have your best interests at heart.
By age 13, I was on the streets of Los Angeles. For the next 10 years I saw, and was involved in, some incredibly twisted things. But they were less damaging than my home life had been because, by then, I didn’t even expect to be loved or cared for. When I was introduced to drugs, for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like killing myself. It was unbelievably powerful. If I took enough drugs, I felt I could survive anything.
Underneath it all I deeply longed for someone normal, for a safe place to belong, to be loved. At age 23, I had a gun in my face during a drug deal gone bad, and I felt grateful! I’d been trying to kill myself since I was eight years old. In a couple of seconds all the pain would be over. When I realized he was just trying to scare me, I wanted to scream, “My next breath scares me! Please pull the trigger!” But he didn’t. And I had to breathe.
I spent the next few days in a daze. I went to see my mom, hoping for a reason to live, but nothing had changed in her attitude toward me. However, she was excited. She’d gone back to school . . . for a degree in social work! I couldn’t breathe. I’d spent my whole life trying to get her to even touch me, and now she was going to teach people how to care for each other? I felt like screaming! But I just said politely, “You’ll probably do a great job. I gotta go.” She told me she had something for me. She handed me a manila envelope, and I left. I was done. I went back to the drug house where I lived at the time, intending to kill myself. I walked in past the naked guy, high on PCP, in the living room. Someone had just shot up heroin in the bathroom and thrown up all over. I found some syringes, thinking I could pump air into my veins until my heart exploded. The manila envelope I had thrown on the bed caught my eye. I wanted to rip it into a million pieces, rip it until my hands bled. I didn’t want to hear one more time how I had ruined my mom’s life.
And then . . . God showed up.
I don’t know how I knew it was Him, but for the first time in my life, I felt safe. And loved. I just sobbed. God impressed me to take the papers out of the envelope. Across the top of my mom’s term paper was a note: “Please give this to Cheri.”
I struggled to read the words, the story of how her mom had abandoned her as a child, of her own molestation, of my father’s abuse. At the top of the third page were the words, “The only reason I survived was I took all my anger and hatred out on my second child, and I ruined her life.”
God gently said to me, “This was never about you, and if you trust me, I can change your life.” This may sound crazy, but I think He gave me a glimpse of who I will be the day after resurrection—an innocent and beautiful child. I had never felt innocent. I heard Him say, “I’ve never seen you any other way.”
Not long after, God brought a mentor into my life, and through her unconditional love He showed me He is crazy about me and He delights in me. She told me the story of Mary Magdalene, the despised prostitute. I so related to Mary! When she lay on the ground, waiting for her accusers to stone her, I saw myself lying there. I knew exactly how she felt: dirty and shameful. But in Jesus’ incredible, tender response to her, I began to see that God knows about all my junk—all the broken, twisted mess inside me—and He loves me anyway. He longs to heal me! And He is healing me. Not all at once. But He’s hung in there with me through my many years of recovery. Through struggles, discouragement, fear, relapse, rejection, and mistakes, He’s gently, patiently loved me. And I’ve fallen in love with Him!
I began to dream of doing ministry. I wanted others to know He’s crazy about them, too. I was invited to share my story at church. Afterward, I was amazed at how many people came to me with stories of brokenness. My story was published in the book Miracle From the Streets. Since then I’ve been invited to speak all over the world. Everywhere I go, I see the same thing: People are broken. They so badly need to know that God loves them even in their mess and that He delights to heal them.
I’ve seen that the brokenness is as great inside the church as it is on the street. It touches all of us, and until we find healing ourselves, we have little to give anyone else. But I’ve also seen the amazing results when a church experiences God’s healing and then opens their doors and their hearts to bring healing to their community.
Your church needs that experience! That’s why my team at True Step Ministries has developed the Celebrating Life in Recovery program. This is friendship ministry at its best—caring for the world’s most crying need: to be loved enough to heal. Our 14-week program is based on our recovery edition of Steps to Christ, which presents Jesus, our Healer, in recovery language, with the 12 steps of recovery. The resource kit for this program contains everything you need to host a recovery program. Those who have used it say, “Anyone can do it!”
Join me in sharing with your church and your community what God shared with me: That He’s crazy about us, that He delights in us, that He’s bigger than all the abuse, dysfunction, molestation, rebellion, addiction—all our junk—and that if you give Him a chance, He will change your life.