by Charles Willis
Today, Cheryl Green is a living miracle and a successful adult by anyone's standards. The circumstances of her early years, however, gave no indication of a basis for successful adulthood. Born, in her own words, "a sight to behold," Green was diagnosed with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a condition in which her legs did not develop properly before birth.
"It was a shock to everybody," she said. "My lower limbs were malformed to the point that they just looked like a ball of flesh." Much of her childhood was spent in hospitals for reconstructive surgeries and examinations by medical professionals-who, she recalled, seemed more interested in her impairment than in her as a person.
Both of her parents suffered mental illnesses. Her father proclaimed himself to be God's anointed one and engaged in abusive behavior. Her mother's paranoid schizophrenia rendered her unable to work and led to an attempt on Cheryl's life. Ultimately, her father lost his job, and the once-middle-class African-American family became homeless.
"Circumstances set me up to believe a lie," she said. "I thought my future depended solely on my own abilities."
While still a teenager, a school classmate invited Green to a church youth group event. That proved to be the beginning of a deeper relationship with God.
"I had some questions for [God]," she recalled. "Why did You create me? Why did You create me like You did? Why did You create me with these parents? Do You love me? If You love me, why don't I feel it?"
She said two Scriptures changed her life: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end" (Jer. 29:11); and "And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (John 9:1-3). Faith in God, rather than in herself, put her on a better life path.
Today Cheryl Green is president and CEO of Green Oaks Mental Health Foundation in Dallas. Her resume includes work with the Dole Foundation for the economic independence of Americans with disabilities, and Ph.D. studies at Yale University. She is also the author of a newly-published book, Child of Promise: One Woman's Journey From Tragedy to Triumph, which details her survival of severe disability, emotional and physical abuse, poverty, homelessness, parental mental illness, and racism.
Green and her mother are now close friends, and she manages her mother's financial and medical affairs. She was able to confront her father about his past abuse, but he died before their relationship could be reconciled.
"It is a daily struggle to leave the past in the past," she admitted, adding that when she began to trust God, "I realized that I needed to choose to let go of the burdens before God could take them away….In my long sojourn, I have discovered God is never far away," she added.
Child of Promise: One Woman's Journey From Tragedy to Triumph was released May 1 by Broadman & Holman Publishers. The foreword is written by Bob Dole, former majority leader in the U.S. Senate.