Daring to Live
Darling to Live touches on themes that each person experiences in life: death of a loved one, questioning of one’s faith, healing, the power of friendship and working hard to find purpose and unapologetic glee in our lives.
Each chapter focuses on a daring feat the four endeavored and the growth that Sheri experienced after each hair-raising, but, oh-so-enriching dare.
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About Daring to Live
It’s reveals my perfect imperfection, grief, shame and friends who dared me to jump off a cliff.”
Ever experience loss? Death of a loved one, loss of freedom, independence, an investment you put your life’s savings into, then, suddenly…gone?
If we live long enough we all will experience a profound loss that will take our breath away. It will be a gut punch that brings us to your knees.
In 2012, my husband of 21 years, Mannard, died suddenly. He wasn’t doing some harrowing sport, or at his demanding job, he was right at home. He died as he was awakening from sleep at 4am on a rainy Sunday—a sudden heart attack.
As a woman of faith—I mean, I volunteered at my church regularly—you’d think I’d turn towards scripture, seek solace in the comfort of the Lord. Instead, I turned to pills and then alcohol. I was a mess and a deep seeded shame that all those years of service, I was instead a phony, a coward and weaker than I had ever imagined.
My three Christian friends (we call ourselves the Dare Divas) intervened and demonstrated not judgment, but grace. Together we ventured off and leaped into insanity. With fear (dread really), we dared each other to do different feats that excited our inner swashbuckler.
One dare we ziplined through the trees, another we whitewater rafted (though none of us could swim); another one we skydived, drove Nascars, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro…and on and on.
Each time, the act of living boldly was easing my spirit, moving me towards a self-confidence that I had lacked. During each dare— after I screamed with abject terror—a deep inner glee emerged, and soon I began to see that I could do other things in my personal life. The lesson was to ACT even when scared beyond belief.
In the end, when it comes to healing there’s no need to do anything as extreme as I did. Simply pushing outside your comfort zone in some small (or big) way will force you to seek God’s face…and he will meet you there.
What I hope for us all is to live a legacy of faith on fire!
I set out for a whitewater rafting adventure on West Virginia’s Gauley River with three of my closest girlfriends. Brenda, Angenette, Mia, and I met six years earlier through the Outreach Ministry at our church. We quickly bonded over our shared life experiences, our Christian faith, and the fact that we – four middle-aged, African-American women living in Detroit – wanted a little more adventure in our lives.
One Sunday afternoon, Mia – always the woman of action – walked into a ministry meeting with information on whitewater rafting. Fed up with all our talk of having an adventurous girls’ weekend, she put a plan in motion.
“C’mon, Sheri! It’ll be fun!” Mia pleaded as I skeptically paged through the pamphlet she’d practically poked my eye out with minutes earlier.
“I don’t know,” I said slowly. “It seems kind of dangerous seeing that none of us can, you know, swim.”
“But that’s why it will be an adventure!” Mia winked. “What’s an adventure without a little danger?”
The other women outvoted me. Three months later, we were on our merry way to West Virginia.
The morning we left, I hugged my kids real tight and kissed my husband, Mannard, goodbye as I headed out the door. Mannard stopped me, not letting go of my hand as I tried to walk to the car. He gave me a pointed look.
“Remember to have fun,” he said, arching his eyebrows. “Don’t hold yourself back on this trip because of the ‘what-ifs.’”
I gave him a thin-lipped smile. If there was anything I’d learned over seventeen years of marriage to this man, it was that he always knew what I was feeling underneath, whether I’d expressed it or not. “Okay, I won’t,” I said, avoiding his eyes and darting out the door.
The next day, as I stood in front of the massive, churning Gauley River, Mannard’s words ran through my mind. I felt my heart slide into the pit of my stomach. I was terrified. If none of us could swim, how were we supposed to deal with a hostile river that seemed primed to toss any one of us overboard? Had the four of us embarked upon the equivalent of a suicide mission?
We were assigned to a raft with a sturdy-looking forty-something and his teenage son. As Katy, our guide for the day, went over the safety precautions in detail, I fidgeted with my life jacket, trying to ascertain whether it was sufficiently buoyant to hold my weight in the very likely chance I got thrown into the drink.
Our adventure began smoothly enough. I was lulled into a stupor, looking at the beautiful wooded areas surrounding the river. The frightening rapids I’d seen in the pamphlet must have been for the experienced paddlers only, I reasoned. Boy, was I wrong.
Within minutes, so much water crashed over my head and spilled down my throat, I thought I’d be sick. My water shoes engaged the floor as I gripped the rope along the inside perimeter of the vessel, leveraging myself so I wouldn’t fall out of the blue urethane raft. I dug deep, ready for the next wave to hit. I’d situated myself at the back of the raft, since Katy had designated the very front as the “wallop zone”— the area where you better take one big gulp of air because you’d likely hover at the top of the swirling West Virginia river a good many seconds before plunging over the rapid.
As another rapid approached, I held onto the inner rope of the raft. I clenched my teeth and tasted a bit of blood as I accidently bit my cheek. Brenda and Ang screamed as a giant wave washed over them, trying to slink away from the wave without going overboard. There was nowhere to go to get away from the onslaught of freezing water; we simply had to endure it.
The next rapid quickly approached. It seemed smaller than the previous one, but I was ready. Katy sat high on the backside of the raft, working her paddle to navigate the craft headfirst into the circling undercurrent. We slammed hard into another craft, and then bounced up against a giant rock. I flew out of my seat, nearly dropping my oar into the river. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the flash of an object dropping like a rock into the rapids.
“Katy is in the water!” someone shouted. Everyone paddled as hard as we could toward her, even though the strong currents were moving our raft away from her and down the river. Her eyes widened with either fear or mortification that the raft was floating away with her paying customers onboard.
Luckily, another guided boat had seen what happened and steered over to us to assist us with our rescue. As the leader of the other boat shouted directions at us, I was surprised to see Katy swimming with all her might toward us – and making headway, no less! Our frantic paddling and Katy’s efforts got us within range of each other, and she was able to grab onto Angenette’s oar as Brenda and I helped to haul her back onboard.
“You guys okay?” Katy heaved, looking up at us through wet eyelashes.
“Are we okay? No, are you okay?” Ang asked. We all laughed, relieved our commander was back at the helm.
At the end of our day, Katy led us to a rocky cliff that people were actively climbing. Four rafts were floating along the shore, and at the top of the cliff a line of about fifteen people waited to jump into the river.
“Nope, not doing that,” Ang said matter-of-factly and positioned herself to relax inside the raft, tucking her legs along the seat cushions.
We watched in awe as people jumped from the cliff and swam back to their rafts. Those who remained on board helped hoist them back into the craft. For someone who had never jumped into a swimming pool, the idea of hurtling 40 feet into the water gave me more than a moment of pause.
Mia looked at us with a mischievous smile and informed us she was jumping. “Y’all coming?” she asked.
I looked at the line. There wasn’t one African American face in the bunch, nothing black or brown, except for the bark on the elms whispering, “Sheri, don’t do it. Stay in the freaking raft with the wise Angenette.”
But something inside me told me to rebel. I remembered Mannard’s words: Don’t hold yourself back because of the ‘what-ifs.’ Soon I was following Mia up the side of the cliff, with Brenda reluctantly following behind. On the way up, I nearly fell face-first over a particularly small rock. I had no idea how I was going to make it to the top without fracturing my ankle, let alone jump when I got there!
I heard myself say, “I can’t, Mia. I want to go back.”
“Don’t turn back now,” said a tall, lean guy walking near us. “It’s more treacherous going down than continuing up.” I looked over my shoulder. He was right. I would definitely crash land trying to get back down. There was no option but to continue up the trail.
Standing at the top, I felt like I had conquered Mount Everest. I would have been fine putting that in my journal as the day’s accomplishment, but with the rickety rock pile behind me, there was only one way down – I had to jump. The line was getting shorter and shorter.
Mia shook all her limbs as if shaking the fear out of her body. She stepped back a few feet then jogged toward the cliff and jumped.
Brenda and I looked at each other in surprise. “Man, she did it!” Brenda said in awe.
“Yep.” I peeked over the edge in time to witness the voluminous splash. Katy and Angenette paddled toward Mia, using the oars to hoist her into the raft.
“Okay, Bren, it’s on you.” I gave her a thumbs-up.
Brenda responded with a killer side eye. “I thought you were next,” she said.
The two of us verbally hemmed and hawed, while the line grew steadily longer behind us. I realized that she was as frightened as I was. I clasped her hand. “Let’s do it together.”
“One,” Brenda said. We looked eye-to-eye.
“Two,” I said, as we scooted closer to the cliff’s edge.
“Three,” we said in unison and leapt as if our lives depended on it.
I felt the pull of gravity as my stomach lurched to my throat. Our hands somehow dislodged, and Brenda accelerated to move ahead of me. I didn’t look down and kept my eyes closed. I held my breath and heard a splash. It wasn’t me.
When was I going to hit water? I was moving alone in time, and though I knew that the inevitable submersion was coming, I was uncertain how the impact would feel.
I hit the water like a torpedo, water filling my nose and mouth. Somehow, with all that H20 around me, I felt a big smile form on my face. I surfaced and heard Brenda’s laughter as she was hoisted into the raft. Then it was my turn. They pulled me in and I crash-landed onto the floor of the vessel.
Breathless, I grinned at my friends. “I’d do it again!”
They just laughed. The truth was that we all wanted to be bounced here and there. A gentle, tranquil day on a lazy river would have been an epic fail. No one wanted that – not even me. I have since learned that’s true of my life as well. While I say I desire serenity, after a while, it becomes mundane and tiresome. Have you ever felt this way? There’s a deep dissatisfaction that festers inside me when things sit still, making me crave a more challenging world – a world that requires more of me and forces me to live up to my full potential. I wonder what will challenge you?
That adventure was the first of many I would go on with my sister-friends. We would eventually call ourselves the Dare Divas, a name that reflected our sassy attitudes and penchant for extreme activities. Together, we learned to ski, drive motorcycles, and parachute out of airplanes. The four of us had grown up in inner city Detroit, so to say that these feats were things we’d never dreamed of doing is a vast understatement – and yet it seemed that together we could accomplish anything. And when I think back to that whitewater trip with my friends in 2008, I can see how the Lord was preparing me for the devastating summer of 2012, when the unthinkable happened. On a rainy August morning in 2012, I awoke around 4 a.m. to what sounded like a broken water pump in the basement. I reached over to Mannard, to wake him up so he could deal with the pump. Those bumps in the nights were his job.
When he didn’t respond, I looked over and realized he was the offending sound. His hands were balled into fists; his eyes bulged. His once beautiful cocoa brown face was ashen. He was arched eerily heavenward, struggling for air, unable to speak.
“Baby! Mannard!” I shouted. He didn’t respond.
I slid on the hardwood floor, nearly tripping over my nightgown to dial 911.
I rushed to my son’s room to wake him up. I grabbed my son—who was solidly snoring—and dragged him across the floor.
“What the hell, Mom?”
“Help me! It’s Dad!”
Back in my bedroom, I heard my 17-year-old man-child cry out like he was five years old when he saw his dad. We both did some version of CPR with my hands on his chest, my son’s hand on his dad’s forehead, but seconds later my husband stopped the awkward jerking as his spirit obeyed to what was to be.
We both let go, my son and I, as we watched my husband, his dad, breathe out – slowly, rhythmically, like he was expelling the last remnants of air from his lungs. As the doorbell rang downstairs, my son and I watched as one solitary tear slid from Mannard’s face to the pillow. He was just 50.
When I lost Mannard, there was, of course, deep sorrow, shock, and grief. But I distinctly remember that one feeling overshadowed all the others: supreme abandonment. This feeling was so permeating it led me to question my long-held relationship with Jesus and my place in life itself.
During those first few weeks, the pain inside ate away at me. I turned to some destructive habits. Fortunately, the Dare Divas were there to pick me up, turn me toward God, and use our adventures together to help me heal. Our dares took on a therapeutic role. As I reflected upon each challenge, I saw that God was using these dares to teach me a series of life lessons for my new life without Mannard.
My friendship with these women not only strengthened my resolve and joy for life, it renewed my personal relationship with God. I began seeking the Lord in ways I never before dared to. Jesus was calling to me to embrace His way of living, to walk in faith every moment of the day, and to develop greater discipline so I could have a more satisfying, fulfilling life.
Through the dares, I learned to step outside my comfort zone to follow where God led. Much like jumping off that cliff, there was no going back. God was calling me to be a better mother to my children, a better friend to the Divas, a better custodian of the finances Mannard had lovingly stewarded during his life, and a beacon of hope to others who were dealing with profound loss.
We can all live a bold, daring life. This doesn’t mean you have to face rushing rapids or jump off a cliff. A truly bold life is lived in the small moments, by choosing what God has called you to today. It’s not letting the “what ifs” hold you back. It’s loving extravagantly, helping those in need, and being a good friend through the peaks and valleys of life. God calls us to journey outside of our comfort zones and propels us to live miraculous lives.
Navigating my way through my sorrow and depression following Mannard’s death wasn’t a straight path to healing. There were times I’d take two steps towards confidence and feeling strong, and then jump five steps back. My story does not flow in a neat timeline. At times, when the dare commenced and was completed, the lesson was potent, and that very day I felt myself growing in strength. Other dares, took months, years even, for me to absorb the lesson and see the power of God’s love and how he carried me through. As you read my story, the dares are not chronological, but instead demonstrate how healing has been for me: a slow, steady realization of my own resilience, God’s grace, and the power of friendship. I was on a Dare Diva adventure. Do you dare to join me?