If Not You, then Who? Featured
My biological family consists of my older brother and my single mother. My biological father has now been in prison for over 21 years, as long as I have been alive. For a while, the three of us were all we had. My mother’s parents were murdered and my dad’s parents are addicted to drugs. I didn’t have a lot of extended family growing up until God sent us to the West Metro Church of Christ in the Detroit area. My mom was getting assistance from a crisis pregnancy center and a woman who volunteered there, named Janet, reached out and shared her faith with my mom. Because Janet was willing to share her faith, I was given the opportunity to have a chance to be where I am today.
My family began attending church at West Metro when I was about two years old. To be completely honest, I only remember a couple of things. First, there were a lot of white people. And second, I loved them. In an attempt to help my mom, the Morr / Sherrill family would let us play on their laps during service. My two-year-old logic rationed that I would be forever committed to whoever was willing and able to give the best back scratches and Wendy Sherrill gave the best. The first time I sat on her lap, my mom accidently forgot to put me in a diaper and I peed all over her lap. Wendy graciously cleaned it off, and let me return to her lap.
As her affection for us grew, my brother and I not only began to sit on both Wendy and her mother’s laps during service, but she would sometimes pick us up from daycare and take us to go run errands with her. I remember being so excited when “Mrs. Wendy” (with my mom’s permission) would come pick us up from daycare. What I remembered the most about this was that I felt loved by her.
When I was eight years old, my mom decided to remarry. It wasn’t long before my stepdad began to physically abuse our family. Once the Sherrills found out, they made it clear that at any time (and I do mean, anytime) we called them, whether it was at 2 AM or 9 PM, they would pick up both me and my brother to take us home with them. We would spend nights with them until my stepdad left, and they would ensure our safety, at least temporarily.
There are times when I can still picture the creases in my stepdad's forehead, as I watched as sweat traced each fold of furrowed skin down to the bed of his eyebrows. I can see his eyes, the outlines of burst blood vessels at the strain of his anger, as his line of vision overlooked my own adolescent face. There are minor details, like the poignant shade of yellow coating his teeth that I can still remember. I still cringe at each lash to my mother’s skin as he beat her with the taut strap of a leather belt. I hear her choked plea for release from the constricting hand of my new stepfather that strangled her neck. Even now, I can picture the outline of my mom’s body in the broken drywall he once threw her through. These conglomerate memories seem to boil down to what are now faint screams, suffocated plea's and internalized fears that will forever be engrained in my memory as a part of my story, the story that led me to God.
Over the years, Wendy and her husband financially supported our extracurricular activities, allowed us to transfer to their school district, and even included my family in their holidays. They would watch us after school so that my mom would be able to go and earn her Bachelor’s degree (with honors, I might add), read the Bible with us, take us out to weekly dinners before the church midweek, and even let us tag along on their Bible studies with others. What I remember more than anything else is that with them, I felt safe and I felt loved. I think I was coming to understand, by their example, that what I was experiencing was Christ.
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t at all easy. I remember times when we struggled to communicate, and there were periods of time, as I was getting older, that I would allow my stubbornness to push them away. During my sixth grade year of middle school, Wendy’s husband decided to retire from his job. After spending over 20 years in the corporate world, he desired to serve in the full-time ministry. This meant that shortly after making this decision, they moved from Michigan to Indiana to lead a church in Fort Wayne. I remember feeling abandoned and neglected by them, and especially angry with God.
I felt like God was taking away what had become my family. The day that they moved out of their home, I remember acting out in anger. Wendy asked if I wanted to see the house for the last time, and I responded by saying something along the lines of, “no…and I don’t want to see you anymore either.” I’ll never forget that day because, underneath all of the defensiveness, I deeply hoped that they wouldn’t give up on me. I wanted to know they still loved me. In hindsight, what I would later come to know was that God was still in control, and this was all painfully small, but crucial part of his greater plan.
Although they would still drive three hours to Michigan, and take me back to their home in Indiana to spend my school breaks with them, the distance did make it more difficult for us to maintain and be close in our relationship. In their absence, I began to hang onto what they taught me over the years. Despite their personal successes, they taught me the importance of pursuing a deep relationship with God, rather than investing in the world’s possessions. I remember many times thinking, “What would Mrs. Wendy do?”, knowing that if I chose to do that, it would lead me closer to God. So I began to study the Bible, and two years later, I became a disciple.
The year following my baptism was challenging. A couple of months after my baptism, my mom also made the decision to study the Bible, and was also baptized, but shortly after, she fell away. As a result, sin began to consume my family’s life. Though I fought to stay faithful, I began returning to my old sins and came close to giving up and calling it quits. As God would have it though, the Sherrills came to pick me up during the Thanksgiving break of my sophomore year of high school, and I decided to get open with them about everything. After much prayer and advice, I went back to Michigan to talk with my family about what would need to happen in order for me to stay with the Sherrills. At that time, it was not possible. So my mom decided to legally give up her guardianship rights in order for the Sherrills to be able to adopt me. This took place four weeks later in December, during the winter break.
If you would have told me when I was eight years old that this was going to be my life, I would’ve probably laughed at you. I am now sitting here as a senior in college having been a disciple for almost seven years. None of us knew this would be our life, but one thing is certain, we are grateful it is. When Wendy made the decision to invest the time and heart in us completely and fully, she said that God answered her prayer using a quote that was hanging from a banner in the gymnasium where we used to worship. It said, “If not you, who? If not now, when?” I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if she would have decided that she wasn’t the one. That it wasn’t the time. What if she would have backed away when I became defensive or allowed me to push her away, especially when she did not see any immediate results of her labor? I refuse to have the faithlessness that strips God of his power by saying that I would not be a disciple if it weren’t for my adoptive family. I think God loves each one of us too much to be bound by those kinds of hurdles. But what I can say for certain is this; I will forever be grateful for the sacrifices that my adoptive family made. It was by their faith in His words, their selfless denial of their lives, and their willingness to walk and listen to the Spirit that I am the disciple that I am today.