Monday, December 22, 2008

Last Christmas was a nightmare.

I've never written about this in my public blog, ever. Simply because I never wanted to revisit those cold, bitter and oh so dissatisfying memories. I have filled journal page after journal page of thoughts, prayers, anger, resentment, hurt and confusion from what happened this time last year, but never have I written publicly about it.

For some reason I feel okay and released to do so now.

December 1. We received a chilling phone call from a friend who uttered the words "Cheryl's missing".

"Missing? What do you mean, missing?"

"She's missing. No one has heard from her in two days. She never turned up to teach Sunday School and she didn't show up to work on Monday either."

"What? Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Her car was located on the shoulder of highway 319 kind of far off the road near the woods and she is nowhere to be found. Her purse was in her car but her wallet was empty. Someone robbed her and someone took Cheryl."

As my mom conveyed this very disturbing conversation to me, I could not comprehend what was being said to me. Almost as if I dismissed it as some sick joke.

"Who would ever take Ms. Cheryl??? Why?"

I was entirely confused by the concept. My mind wouldn't let me register it as being true.


When I was about 8 years old, we relocated to Crawfordville, FL, a little suburb of Tallahassee, FL and began attending a Church in a town called Sopchoppy (we actually ended up moving to Sopchoppy later that year). This church eventually became our world. We made some of the best friends, created some of the most amazing memories and learned some extremely vital lessons while there. Among the people we connected with there, Ms. Cheryl became a key role model to ever enter my life around the age of 10. She began teaching a class for young girls and I, among many other girls my age were privileged to be in her class. She wasn't like the other teachers we had in the past. She really took pride in what she did and went above and beyond her role to lead us. We had countless sleepovers at her house while eating innumerable amounts of cookie dough and toaster strudels and then all 8 of us would pile in her king size water bed, giggling and such until the wee hours of the morning. She didn't mind when we said she had "gray highlights" and she took us on countless trips to town as we would stop at her in-home care patients homes along the way to help her visit and "tend" to them.

My sisters and I thought she was the coolest lady in the whole world as well as many of our other friends. I remember some weekends when mom would say "Girls, Ms. Cheryl is picking you up from school today and you're going to stay the night with her!" and the excitement would ensue. We knew we were in for a sleepless nights with lots of food, movies and possible front yard camp outs. One Friday in particular I remember her picking us up and informing us that we were going to be cheerleaders at her son's football birthday party. We excitedly got our costumes ready, pom poms and pony tails and proceeded to cheer for the "home team" in their backyard. We thought we were cool stuff.

She had 2 sons but never had any daughters. I suppose she would have loved to have a daughter by the way she acted with all of us girls. We loved her so much and she really loved us.

There was a time when I became very sick and was having lots of physical problems and she, being the great nurse that she was helped me through a very difficult time physically, emotionally and spiritually.

As we all approached our teen years, we stayed close to her. Her and her son Jake were the only people who helped us move from Sopchoppy to Pensacola and they, too eventually moved here so she could attend the Bible school my dad taught at. She lived about a half a mile away from us and the sleepovers continued as well as the fun times. Some of the girls would occasionally come over for a visit and we would all hang out at Ms. Cheryl's house as if nothing had ever changed.

She loved Jesus with all of her heart. She was a true disciple as well as a discipler. While she was extremely fun and let us get away with a lot, she was very solid about one thing- God. She stood true and firm upon values and taught us to love and respect ourselves and always put God first in our lives.

She was a nurse for many, many years and was amazing at it. I remember her taking time on her weekends when she was off duty to check on her patients because she had such a huge heart. They all loved her. I honestly never met anyone who didn't love Ms. Cheryl.

She went on to do medical missions work in various countries and loved every second of it. She could rough it and she had a genuine love, care and compassion for people.

She was really a one-of-a-kind type of person. I looked up to her immensely as did my sisters and all of our friends who knew her. She was so loveable. She could be stern, but only when she knew we were harming ourselves. We knew what she meant because she did it in love.

Regretfully, as I grew older and she moved back to Crawfordville we kind of lost contact with her. Our lives changed completely within the span of a year and we lost contact with a lot of very dear people. I hate this part about life. I hate that this happens, but it does. The crazy thing is, you know how much you loved that person and how much they loved you that even though time and distance put a gap between you, nothing really ever changed. Ms. Cheryl never changed. She was faithful and she was a fervent follower and pursuer of Jesus. She lived her entire life based on that and that alone. God was undoubtedly the center. I always admired that about her. She was not easily swayed. Her feet were firmly planted.

This Article was written just 5 days after she went missing.

:Fast Forward:

December 6- Still no trace of Ms. Cheryl. "How can this be happening?"

The entire month of December 2007 is kind of all a blur. We hardly celebrated Christmas as we were communting back and forth from Pensacola to Crawfordville to praticipate in foot searches, to be with close friends who knew and loved Cheryl as well as Jake, her son who was always like a big brother to us and simply because we just could not celebrate anything or be happy when all of this was occuring. It was completely devastating and so surreal. I cried myself to sleep every night at the horrible thoughts that would invade my mind and I cried out to God to please prove Himself to me and let her be okay. I just couldn't understand why He would let something such as this happen to someone so amazing, who loved Him so much and who lived her life in complete surrender to His will. It didn't make any sense.

I wanted to punch people who would say "God has a plan for all of this". That phrase literally made me want to throw up.

"How could God have a plan for someone to go missing who obviously had been robbed and abducted? How could God have a plan for a Mother of two fairly young sons and a grandmother of two baby girls to just be ripped out of their lives in such a terrible manner?"

I'm sorry but I REFUSE to believe that Cheryl's abduction and death was ever a part of God's plan. I could be wrong but I just refuse to believe that God would ever let something so utterly awful happen to someone like Ms. Cheryl or anyone for that matter.

I'm not going to go into much detail simply because the details are very disturbing and gruesome and I honestly wish I didn't even have to know them. It was by far the worst tragedy I have ever had to witness of someone who was close to me, ever.

Her body was eventually located and unidentifiable. It actually took them a while to confirm it was her.

My heart sank when we received this news. It was apparent that it was going to be her but I still had that glimmer of hope and it was quenched completely.

"No, that can't be her. They did not do that to her! Only a monster could go to those lengths and do something so inhumane. Dear God."

Anger welled up within me at the thought. I wanted that person tortured forever. I hated him. How could anyone to that to our Ms. Cheryl?

I still am admittedly bitter about it to this day. Honestly, It would be so hard to forgive that man for what he did and not only to dear Ms. Cheryl but also a young girl by the name of Meredith Emerson as well as many other victims he preyed upon. He is evil, inhuman, despicable and completely vile.

I know my words are harsh but you really have no idea...

December 26, 2007 marks one year from the day of her funeral. Yes, her funeral was the day after Christmas. Her family's holidays will forever carry a tragic memory and will forever change the way they view it because someone evil took their mother and grandmother's life before her time. Now, there is a void and a constant reminder. It sickens me.

I hate it. I hate the truth. I hate knowing the gruesome details and I hate remembering it.

I'm trying right now to focus on remembering her life and the lovely person that she was. I will never ever forget the impact and difference she made in my life and everyone she ever came in contact with.

Should you wish to read more about her... - My dad is quoted and mentioned in this article as he was a keynote speaker at her funeral (Keith Collins). As well as the article below.

This time of year does hold chilling memories and feelings for me. I can't help but think about it from time to time and I guess with it being the one year anniversary I felt some closure to write about it, though it was extremely difficult for me to do so. I will never ever understand why it happened, ever. It will never make an ounce of sense to me.

RIP Ms. Cheryl. You will forever be remembered and cherished in our hearts. You gave me a perspective about so many things and I will always strive to live a life consecrated unto the Lord because of the example you set before me. I am forever grateful for the time I was able to know you and glean from you. I am so glad that God placed you in our lives.

One thing resonates in my mind when I recollect all that happened...

"God can take what the enemy has used to cause evil and turn it around for good. " (Gen.50:20)

Yes, God can turn the very devices of the enemy into weapons of victory.

As I think back to that dismal month I can honestly say that as SO many people remembered and talked about Cheryl, it all centered around her lifestyle; pure, honest, compassionate, modest, loving, generous, selfless, loyal and faithful. I believe that many people were touched by her persona and devotion and I pray that the fruit of the many seeds she planted come to fruition.


Andrea said...

Wow, I have no words. What a tragic, horrible thing to have to go through. For you, for Cheryl's family, for everyone who knew her...

Anniversaries such as these are the worst, especially the first one. Time will heal but you are entitled to feel what you need to feel now.

My thoughts are with you. You've experienced SO much in your short life!

Ophelia said...

I am truly sorry for your loss Amber and for the devistation you've experienced.

I think that this is a perfect manifestation of God, although I doubt you will see it this way now...

All brutality aside (easier said than done, I know)... it was no coincidence that the killer selected someone who was so close to God... someone who you KNOW was destined for heaven.

Her killer may have extinguished a beautiful life, but through her suffering and the wondrous life she led she has been rewarded with eternal salvation.


God is with her and I know you miss her, she's still with you too.

It's hard to separate our feelings from the perspective of the loved one we lost, because we focus so much on our grief... Whenever I get upset or angry at the fact that my father was only 47 when he died, I try to remind myself that my father was a lucky man and that God must have thought he was extra special to deserve to get into heaven so early! I still miss him, but no one deserves eternal happiness more than my dad, so I have no choice but to be happy for him! Maybe someday you'll be able to feel the same way about your friend and it will help to ease your pain just a little bit.

Jessica said...

Amber, I don't have any words that could possibly offer you any consolation. I am so sorry this happened.

I think it's wonderful that you're letting her live on in your memory and are reflecting on the amazing woman she was. Her life is what you should remember her by. And the wonderful thing is that her legacy goes on and on, in your life and the lives of the many girls she mentored and taught. YOU are her legacy, Amber, and I think it's a wonderful one.

God bless your family and her family this Christmas. God is holding you in His hands.

mrs.leah.maria said...

Amber I have no words for you either, but I'm truly glad that you are at a point in your life and this blog that you felt comfortable sharing this.

I'm so sorry for you loss.

Chelsie said...

Amber, like others, I have no words that can take away the pain you went through, but do know, that all who read this are thinking about you and her family during this difficult time. I can't imagine having to have an anniversary of something so awful during the holidays like this. Hugs to you!

Anonymous said...

Amber that was beautifully written and I know Ms. Cheryl would be so honored that you wrote about her so lovingly. I cried as I read it and in a way it felt healing and "right" as if we are dealing with this in a way that brings peace out of all the confusion we have experienced in the past 3 years.I love you more than words and I could not be prouder of the amazing young lady you have become. Everything you have gone through has made you stronger wiser and deeper.Love forever -Mom

Sara said...

I am so sorry for that happening to someone you know. That happened to my Aunt twenty two years ago, but they have yet to find her. I hope you find peace in your situation.

Shanny said...

Oh Amber this is so sad. I'm really sorry for the loss of such a compassionate and inwardly beautiful person. I couldn't bring myself to read the articles but I still pray that she is in peace.

I'm so sorry Amber. Big hug.

Vicki said...

Amber, my heart truly goes out to you, Ms. Cheryl's family and all the wonderful people that she touched.
You are certainly entitled to feel those emotions. No one would blame you at all.
Be strong, time will help you get through all this.
~ Big Hugs ~