Today is a very special day. Today, July 18th, is my wife, Sherri Connell’s birthday! I have been wondering how I can honor Sherri and show her how truly grateful I am for her. It is hard to believe we met almost 30 years ago. On March 21st of 1992 to be exact, Sherri walked into the RadioShack I was managing and walked into my life. We were married on 9/4/94, yes a date I chose so I wouldn’t ever forget. Besides, I knew I would marry her the day I met her.
Why did I fall in love with her? She is beautiful and smart and caring and gorgeous and understanding and funny and a strong woman of faith and wise beyond her years and able to see the other person’s point of view and always finding ways to help others and she has the voice of an angel and insightful and intuitive and intelligent and I think, I mentioned beautiful. Ok, I’m sure you were wondering if the sentence about her would ever end. The reasons why I married her will keep coming to me every day until the good Lord choses to take her home!
Yet, I want to mention another reason which really impacts why I love her so much. It is her unyielding, never ending, incredible visible courage. I love this definition of courage from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “to possess mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” When do we need courage? Not when everything is going great and the joys of life are just sailing smoothly along. We need courage when the storm is raging, when the battle is hard, when the road is difficult, when hope is just a distant thought. We need courage in the midst of a pandemic, civil unrest, natural disasters and financial struggles.
I think of Sherri’s courage to learn to walk again from paralysis caused by Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis in 1991, when she was only 27. She also obtained two bachelor’s degrees during the same time, completed one in 1991 and the second in 1992 from CCU. And you might be thinking that it really did take courage to accomplish the walking and college degrees. Almost 31 years later, the battle with MS still rages on with full body neuropathy and limb numbness and brain fog and the great loss of the ability to work when you were only 27.
I am amazed by Sherri’s courage, fighting daily for her life as it is ravaged by Lyme Disease from a tick bite when she was only 14 and diagnosed at 28. More treatments, more doctors, more money spent than you can imagine, fighting this crazy organism hell bent on destroying her body and brain and making it’s definite daily mark. She has lived with Lyme Disease for so long that her immune system thinks the spirochetes are just part of the human anatomy.
I see Sherri’s courage daily as she walks through the trauma of great loss. Post traumatic stress is real in her life. It started with the loss of her career in 1991 and her love for singing and acting. Then the family, friends and pet losses started piling up. First, the passing of a close friend living with chronic pain, Jenny, then the sudden death of her brother, Jim, and then my mom, Karen, a very close long time friend to suicide, Matt, my dad, Russ, another close friend to cancer, Ann, three of our kids, Oreo, Jelly Bean and Kit Kat, (Nigerian goats, we are unable to have children), our dog of 16 years, Snickers, my brother-in-law, Wayne, another close friend due to MS, Jane, Sherri’s mom only two years ago, Carole, her step mom last year to Covid, Nancy Jo and our beloved kid last Christmas Eve, Cookie.
On top of the trauma is the isolation. Many years prior to Covid, we have been isolated for almost 2 decades from family, friends and church due to Sherri’s MCS or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. The toxic nature of fragrances, which the only true cure is avoidance, attack her nervous system. An AARP study in 2010 noted that isolation is like smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We have been blessed by people who have decided to forego the fragrances and scents and value relationships first. The courage of fighting the battle alone is so evident in Sherri’s life.
The Apostle Paul states in Romans 5 that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character. I have witnessed first hand the amazing character of my bride of almost 27 years. Her courage is evident in her suffering. Her courage provides a means and a will for her endurance. Her courage is what has built a woman of great character, always thinking of others and their needs before hers. Her courage is magnified through the co-founding of the Invisible Disabilities Association in 1996, the practical ideas and support provided through the co-authoring of landmark book, But You LOOK Good, How to Encourage and Understand People Living with Illness and Pain, the writing and illustrating of the Adventures of Pumpkin and Cookie which teaches that you should be yourself and not someone else, and the videos and memes and stories on GoattaBeMe.com and her personal journey on SherriConnell.com. Through these works and many others, Sherri displays her outstanding character and tenacity and fortitude and understanding and humor and joy and of course, her incredible courage.
I do want to note that there have been incredible friends and amazing doctors along the way that have provided hope and encouragement, insight and wisdom, love and support.
I hope you have the opportunity today to wish Sherri a happy birthday. Because this world is a better place because of her birth and life! Her courage is truly visible! I hope my words may encourage you to share your story or the story of someone you know who exhibits visible courage as well!