Interview with Cheri Fuller and Christian Book Previews' editor, Debra Murphy:
CBP: Can you share with our readers your Christian testimony?
Cheri: My mother took all six of us kids to church from the time we were tiny. I grew up loving Jesus, and gave him my heart when I was twelve, but when I was about nine my father had been having heart attacks. He had his first major heart attack when I was nine years old. He had his fourth and died, when I was eleven. Six months before that, his sister, my aunt, drowned tragically. She was only 42-years-old. Nine months before that, my grandfather died, he was really close to us.
CBP: What was that like?
Cheri: Well, I learned the brevity of life as a very young child and I am acquainted with grief from my earliest times. My mother was grief stricken and left with six kids. She didnít drive; she was only thirty-six. A year and a half later she remarried, and we moved. I made friends at our new school, and about a year later, one of my very best friends, he was an eighth-grader, was killed in a hunting accident on his grandfatherís farm. I woke up one Saturday to someone calling me to tell me that, and it felt like one of the last vestiges of trust were blown out of my life with that news.
CBP: How did that affect you?
Cheri: In my teenage years and twenties, I had these cosmic questions like, ďDoes anybody up there really care; does prayer really matter?Ē We had all prayed over my dad, and he had not lived; he died at forty-seven. I asked, ďIs heaven and hell really real?Ē Just huge questions that I did not hear addressed in any sermon. The church really was like a light to me. I went to youth group and Jr. high, but my heart really got disconnected from God along the way. The way that I dealt with my losses was through achieving in school, joining every club, trying to make straight Aís, and being one of the top ten in my high school class. I had to work hard to make the top ten since there were 700 kids. That carried through my life right into to college, and I worked while I was in college to put myself through. A few months after I graduated, I got married and taught the first two years.
CBP: What was the early part of your marriage like?
Cheri: When I was nine-months pregnant with our first son, I thought, ďIím going to get bored if I donít have another project. Just being a mom, Iíll get bored.Ē I loved school, and I love learning, so with those two things I started my graduate work when I was nine months pregnant with my first child, and I finished my Masterís degree when I was seven-months pregnant with our third child five years later. This busyness kept the darkness at bay, kind of. Some people deal with the pain of life, some with comfort eating, and some with romance novels, with addictions.
CBP: How did you deal with it?
Cheri: For me it was with busyness. I was 29-years-old when I really had a renewal in my life with Christ. My first son, by the time he was four-years-old, had very severe asthma attacks and he almost died. As you can imagine my worst fear was that I would lose someone I loved, most of all my first son.
CBP: So you had fears.
Cheri: I had these huge fears; I was a just a fear-ridden young woman, but I did reconnect with the heart of God and His love for me. I couldnít control the fear and I realized everything was out of control. I was seeking all those years. God is so faithful to draw us back to Him, but it was a long process through my teens and twenties.
CBP: What happened at the age of 29?
Cheri: So at twenty-nine-years-old, I suddenly was having a conversation with God again because of this renewal. When I read Paul saying, ďPray without ceasing,Ē I thought to myself, has he seen my schedule? I have three kids and Iím helping my husband at his store, and Iím teaching part-time. What I realized as I looked at that, was that the busyness was just a symptom of my heart, of this brokenness. Iíd been on a path of God healing my heart and helping me reconnect with Him as my Daddy over a long period of years.
CBP: What about now?
Cheri: Our oldest son is now thirty-four, our next son, thirty-one, and our daughter, twenty-eight. Prayer has been and is a lifeline for me. I am a busy woman, I have a lot of responsibilities and book deadlines, travel, being a wife, and Iíve got five little darling grandchildren ages two to seven. I have a son who went to Iraq last August as a Navy doctor. It doesnít matter what in my life is going on, Iím not too busy to pray because I pray waking up in the morning. The first words out of my mouth each morning prayers for protection, mercy and to have angels around my son who was in the battle of Fallujah.
CBP: The darkness that you were keeping at bay, what was that?
Cheri: Well, for me, it was the losses in my life, the disconnection with God, and the sense of being alone and abandoned, many of those kinds of issues. I reconnected with Him when I was twenty-nine-years-old, we began a conversation that continues to this day. He began to take the threads of my life, my strains with my husband, my concern over one of my sisters who was an alcoholic, my fears for my son, these losses that Iíd kind of kept at bay, and He began to weave them into prayer.
CBP: What is one of your missions with your book?
Cheri: I think one of my missions in this book is part of the core of my ministry with women, is a look at prayer. We hear about prayer from the pulpit often, itís an obligation; itís this duty. And if weíre not doing it well, we think weíre failures, weíre not good Christians, we donít do it like the pastorís wife or the Bible study leader. So thereís all this guilt about prayer. Yet, for me as a scared young woman in the emergency room with my son, or with any of the other burdens I carried prayer is an incredible gift. Itís all about relationship; itís how we know God. Women do carry a lot of burdens for people whether you have kids or not. In the workplace weíre concerned about this woman over here is getting a divorce or whatever.
CBP: Tell us about your book.
Cheri: One of the things I try to do is to take prayer out of the box. This is a ďtake prayer out the boxĒ book. Thereís a chapter on finding your spiritual pathway. Finding out how you connect with God. Iím not just talking here about pray on the go all the time.
CBP: You share many creative was of praying. You say in your book that the reader can find what works best for them. Tell us more about prayer.
Cheri: Iím a music lover and so music is a way I can connect with God. I love the Scripture prayers. Prayer is a gift, a gift so that we might know Him. It was a gift when my son the one who was in Iraq, when he went away to college would contact me. In Iraq he was twenty hours away and I couldnít hear his voice. It didnít matter to me, day or night. What mattered is I loved to hear my sonís voice. I missed him terribly.
CBP: In your book you wrote about how God wants to hear from us.
Cheri: Itís like He said to me in that time, ďI just want you to know that I want to hear from you! I want to hear your voice!Ē
I got to talk to my son twice while he was in Iraq, and I got to hear his voice. What a gift! Itís a gift for God and a gift for us. So if that all I got across to the readers Ė because it changes your whole perspective. Prayer isnít an obligation, or a duty, it is a gift.
CBP: In the Old Testament, though, people did not have access to prayer like we do today. We donít know what a gift it is.
Cheri: Yes. Itís a gift of access. Only once a year, this one high priest, who was chosen, was allowed to enter the holy of holies. There was this huge thick veil, about sixteen feet across. It took three hundred men to move it. It separated all the normal people like you and me, and they couldnít come in. This one priest went in once a year and offered sacrifices and prayed intercessory prayers for the people. When Jesus died on the cross he said, ďIt is finished.Ē That veil was ripped in the temple, and forever after, we have access into the throne of grace. Prayer is how God dispenses His grace. So weíre invited in, not because of what we did, not because Iím good Ė we donít need a priest to do this for us because the blood of Jesus cleanses us from unrighteousness, and so it doesnít matter whether youíre a woman who has sinned greatly, or youíve been through a divorce, or youíre broken, or your daughter has anorexia. He invites us in to get the grace we need day by day.
CBP: How is your book on prayer set up?
Cheri: The first part of the book is the gift, the invitation, the power of prayer and the longevity of prayer. The last part of the book is the practical and, I think, some of the deeper things of prayer like perseverance and praying for our enemy. When we talk about the gift, the intention of prayer, it is that we donít have to be stressed out, burdened women all the time. He says, ďYou can bring Me your burdened self, and Iíll give you rest.Ē
As a young woman whoís been burdened and anxious, and busy, that I could just day-by-day, and moment by moment when concerns came up, just give my burdens to the Lord. I get to live a life of adventure instead of anxiety because He invites me to bring those and he will share my burdens.
CBP: Speak to us about bless.
Cheri: Bless is a way Ė I discovered it a number of years ago from one of the evangelism HOPE (Houses of Prayer Everywhere). It is to whom I give the credit. I really adapted it to my life, not only for evangelistic praying, but the BLESS is Body, Lay groups, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual. Just to give you an example, when I was praying for our son who was in Iraq, I used BLESS for protection for his body; and his lay group, give him compassion as a doctor, give him wisdom; and emotionally, help him not to be afraid of worrying about his wife and baby and to be able to trust God, and then, give him friends; and then spiritually, the S is the most important, just for God to pour out His mercy on him. You can adapt that for praying for anyone, praying for yourself, you can do it in the car, before your head lifts from the pillow in the morning. It is helpful to write on an index card to remember what those letters mean, and add the personís name that you want to remember. One of our biggest hindrances in prayer is our wandering thoughts. BLESS, it sounds so simple, but if you do that what youíll find is it will focus your thoughts.
CBP: So starting a busy womanís day with prayer.
Cheri: Itís a beautiful time. Even before our head is off the pillow sometimes I say, ďLord, I just give you this day. You said to rejoice in the day thatís ahead of you. I donít know whatís going to happen in the next 24 hours, Lord, but You do. Would You go before me, would You just help me to stay connected and keep my eyes on You?Ē
CBP: Itís a pre-planning of our day.
Cheri: I hope women will catch that time with God is a multiplier of your time. I think God is a great time saver. Thatís one of the hidden messages in here is that He can show you things and when you connect with Him, it helps so much. It helps me to read a psalm, or a scripture passage. It doesnít have to be a whole hour of reading the Word, but His word really does direct our prayer. Iíd say the Bible is our greatest prayer handbook. Some women put Scripture in their car, or laptop, or office. Itís just like exercise; Iím investing 30 minutes a day, but that multiplies my energy. Same thing with prayer. Look at Jeremiah 33:3, ďCall to Me and Iíll answer you, and show you great and mighty things you donít know.Ē Heíll show us things we need to know for our day. Heíll give us this little bit of wisdom of what we need to say to the person weíre going to a meeting with. I donít say I do that all the time, but Iíve seen it happen enough times. He wants to direct our day.
Thereís a fun prayer that I kind of allude to, ďGod just give me marching orders for my day.Ē Iíve had some of my biggest breakthroughs for years in my writing career by waking up and saying, ďGod give me my marching orders for today for what You want me to do.Ē One of those times where when I first started writing my first book, I knew no one in the industry, and I wrote an article and had gotten a break in Family Circle in the national market with this article on learning style. I was sitting at my computer that day and earlier I sat down with my coffee and I said, ďGod give me my marching orders for today, would you?Ē
CBP: Tell us about those marching orders.
Cheri: In that case, that morning, it was ďWhy donít you redo that article that you did for Family Circle with a Christian slant and send it to Focus On The Family?Ē Iíd read it for years, but I didnít know if they even took unsolicited manuscripts. I did that very thing and they sent me a letter and they said they hadnít really done any articles on education, but we really would like to use this but it doesnít fit right now, could we hold on to it?
I said, ďSure.Ē A year and a half later it came out in Focus On The Family the very month my first book came out. It led to me being on the broadcast, and it led to other things that God opened up. This didnít come out of my head, you know, and that leads to Ė I have some chapters on encouraging women to listen, Iím not a good listener.
CBP: What about your chapter "Allow God to Give to You."
Cheri: We welcome the adventure of life when we hear Him, when our heart connects with Him. We ask Him to guide us and he promises to do so. He said, ďMy Word will light your path.Ē
CBP: How do you hear Him?
Cheri: I hear Him through music, through reading His Word, through things that I read, through talking to people. For example, I had lunch with my friend in Denmark Ė and I share this in the book Ė one day when my son Chris was in combat, I didnít know where he was, I knew he was in harmís way; we were just having lunch at Corner Bakery, and I was expressing my angst about Chris and not hearing from him for so long and hoping that he was okay. Ann said, ďCheri just remember that all the days ordained for Chris were written in the book before he was born. Psalm 139 says that.Ē Well, see I know that because thatís been a real life-verse for me ever since my mom died, but I donít have to fear getting on an airplane because all the days Heís planned for me were written in the book before I was born. But He used Ann to remind me of that. He was thinking through that to remind me, ďOkay, that applies to him, my son, that though heís in Iraq in the midst of death and destruction, all the days ordained for my son, who I love, were written in the book.
CBP: What other way do you hear Him?
Cheri: And Iíve talked about Godís quiet whispers. In the midst of our thoughts, weíll have a thought that we didnít have. We all need to listen better because He has so many blessings for us if weíll listen and obey. Thatís the adventure and itís different for each one of us. Heís so gentle with us, Heís so patient with us; far more patient than we are with our children, and He does have grace for us, and we need it, we go through hard things.
CBP: Cheri, thank you so much for your time and a wonderful insight to prayer.