Friday, January 17, 2014

Retro SGM Radio: Women of Substance Series Featuring Sheri Easter

{Editor's Note: This series on the Women of Southern Gospel by Lorraine Walker began in the Fall of 2007 and continued into 2008 on SGM Radio website. We hope you enjoy this feature on Sheri Easter!

Last fall, we began a series on the awesome women in Southern Gospel Music and we’ve talked to current legends like Kim Hopper, Karen Peck Gooch and Susan Whisnant. These amazing ladies are more than just a sweet voice and a pretty smile; they each have depth of character and a heart after God. The same holds true for our July Woman of Substance, Sheri Easter.

One of the greatest stories in Southern Gospel was the joining of the youngest generation of two bluegrass groups, The Lewis Family and The Easter Brothers. Polly (Lewis) Williamson Copsey’s daughter, Sheri, married Jeff Easter, son of James Easter. They began to tour as Jeff and Sheri and the accolades continue to flow to this day.

Jeff and Sheri have had many talented artists travel with them throughout the years, from Greg and Charlotte Ritchie to Jeff’s brother Rabbit Easter. Currently, they are sharing the stage with daughter Morgan on vocals and son Madison on electric guitar. Even little Maura Grace takes a turn on the drums occasionally. Mom and Dad couldn’t be more thrilled, as Sheri shared with SGM Radio recently at a concert in Hamilton, Ontario.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” says Sheri. “It’s just a wonderful gift. Morgan has wanted to sing since she was just a kid. This is her opportunity, this is her day and I’m very proud of her. She’s doing a great job!”

Sheri’s pride in her children glows through her eyes as she talks about their talents. She’s thrilled to have them onstage and happy that they can all travel together as a family. “There is a freedom that I can’t explain,” Sheri says. “Not that it was ever bad before because we were gifted and fortunate to travel with people that we really loved, people that were very close friends. But traveling with your family is probably like you feel when you get home and you’ve been with people all night and you kick your shoes off, take your jacket off and relax. There’s that freedom. So that’s kind of fun!”

“We are enjoying this. It gives the children a chance to express themselves more onstage, and we’ve known all along that this is what they would end up doing.” As Sheri works with Morgan and watches her develop into a singer, she has given her advice that is useful for any new young artist.

“One thing that I’ve told Morgan from day one, is to ‘sing from your heart’. Don’t sing anything you don’t believe. Sing songs you believe and that you would want to speak to somebody. It should be a message you agree with and a message you can put your whole heart into. And, don’t ever be afraid to work hard. That’s the best advice I can offer to anybody. God will do all the door opening.”
Sheri’s role as a wife, mother, mentor, Southern Gospel artist and businesswoman, often leave her with little time for herself, and little time for communion with God. “There are times when I have felt so overwhelmed and I would say, ‘This has just got to be the busiest we have ever been’, and I would look at an old date list and it was just as busy!” Sheri confesses. “You just have to know that when you travel this much, you have to make time to get with God. You don’t have the luxury of going to church on Sunday morning and Wednesday night, so you just have to find God in your places and in your own time schedule.”

“I keep a Bible in my restroom, near my bed, on my breakfast bar, and on the bus,” Sheri continues. “I keep a Bible everywhere so they are easily accessible. I pick them up and I read every opportunity I get a chance to. I don’t have the luxury of time that I would like, but I know that if I don’t find God I am going to be depleted very quickly. I am not going to be able to keep up with this schedule if I can’t find my peace of mind and the leading and guiding from God. I have to make time for that.”

“I was fifteen years old when I started traveling fulltime. At the time, I was a member of the praise team at my church, so I was in church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and Tuesday night Youth Service. So it was difficult to go from that to traveling,” says Sheri. “But Jeff and I are prayer warriors. We don’t hesitate to pray about anything and every opportunity that comes our way. We truly try to acknowledge God in all of our ways and ask Him to direct our paths.”

“I can remember when our kids were little, 3 or 4 years old. One day I was praying and the kids walked into the kitchen. They never said anything; they waited until I was done. Then they asked, ‘Who are you praying for, Mama?’ So it was commonplace enough that it looked like the ‘norm’ for them. They didn’t see it as a strange situation. They knew that I was praying for somebody.”

“It’s a part of our lives,” Sheri continues. “We keep involved with God 24 hours a day so we don’t have to worry about that one church service that we aren’t able to attend. I don’t know how people face the hard times if they don’t have that grounding.”

Sheri gave the following illustration: “I have a very dear friend who is now a pastor’s wife, and who I’ve known for 25 years. About seven years into our friendship, she shared something with me that was surprising. She said, ‘Sheri, my husband and I are not Christians. We know we need to be.’ I can remember thinking, ‘How do you get through each day without that peace of mind?’”

“She told me later that they weren’t ‘getting through’ at all,” says Sheri. “At that point, they made a profession of faith, they both started serving Christ and for about ten years now he has been pastoring. They have true pastors’ hearts; they really love their congregation and give everything they have to those people. It’s been a gift to watch them grow in God.”

Jeff and Sheri were mentors to these friends and didn’t even know it. Sheri says that they assumed their friends, who were regular church attendees, shared their faith. During those seven years, the friendship they shared helped this couple grow in their faith and take the step of commitment to Christ.

Sheri herself has had many mentors in her life, “Especially my Mom and Dad. They were really good at being parents. I don’t ever remember them making mistakes, though I’m sure they did as all parents do. They loved me in spite of everything.”

“My Grandmother was probably the greatest Christian influence in my life. She was always reading her Bible, always quoting scriptures to us, always using scriptures in everyday speech. She would just come out with, ‘Idle hands are a devil’s workshop’. She was also a Godly woman who never failed to get down on her knees and pray, even when she got well up into her 80’s and 90’s. She still made a point to get out of her bed and onto her knees to pray. She was a pastor’s daughter, brought up from an early age to love God and shared that with her whole family.”

“Through the years, after I lost my Dad, God blessed me with a mentor in my wonderful father-in-law, James, ” Sheri says. “Then there are people like George Younce and Jake Hess and Vestal Goodman. They were incredible mentors because they were not only Godly influences in my life, they were also friends. It was wonderful to be able to share the stage with them. Rex Nelon, Bill and Gloria Gaither; there are so many I could go on naming. These people have been an incredible inspiration to Jeff and I.”

Sheri shares openly on stage about the challenge her family is going through as her mother, Polly, deals with Parkinsons’ Disease and related dementia. She knows there are a lot of people in their audience who are facing the same challenges with parents or spouses. Sheri says, “For anyone who is facing any kind of debilitating disease, cancer, or any kind of a degenerative illness, the outcome according to this world is negative. We can’t focus on that. We have to take each day as it comes, trusting God every step of the way. He ultimately is a miracle worker. We know that and we believe that.”

“If we get our miracle, we praise God for it,” continues Sheri. “If we don’t, we know that we are promised a better life in eternity. So we just have to trust God on those issues. As difficult as life is, He has promised us He would never put on us more than we can bear. We have to trust Him on that. We have to trust that the strength is going to come from somewhere.”

“A woman said to me the other day, ‘You know, I’ve thought about you a lot. And I’ve thought about why God would put you in this position with your mother. Both of you are such great communicators’. So I told her, ‘Maybe it is just to communicate. Maybe it is to communicate to the world that life goes on, the heart still keeps beating, and we still trust God for every breath that we take.’”

“The bottom line is, I’m just going to have to trust God that we are going to get through this. Hopefully we can communicate a message to the world that God is faithful in spite of our circumstances. Life is tough but God is faithful.”

God has been faithful to Sheri and her committed prayer life is a reflection of her commitment to Him. “We were always taught to pray. It was inherent in the way our parents lived their lives. That says a whole lot to kids. You live your life that way, rather than telling them they should live their lives that way.”

“I lost my Daddy to a sudden heart attack when I was twenty years old. Life came at me very fast. But I have found out that I am a better person for it. Would I change it? No, probably not. God did a work. It was His timing, not mine. I’ve found out in life that His circumstances always work out better than my plans. Look at Maura! I didn’t plan to have her and look what a gift! God is faithful.”

Sheri beams when she talks about her little girl who was a ‘surprise’. “She is just the greatest joy! I am so blessed to have her. Me and Jeff, we look at each other and wonder what if we hadn’t had her? Life is so complete now. Three years ago she wasn’t even a thought. I’m very grateful for God’s timing.”

It had been fifteen years since the Easters had a newborn in the house, and Sheri laughs at how her parenting skills have changed. “My other kids remind me of that daily. ‘You would have spanked me for that!’ But as you get older, you choose your battles. I will not let her be disrespectful or ugly to other people. But I don’t really care if she colors on something she shouldn’t have or that kind of thing. I’m much more chilled on some of the things I used to freak out about with my other kids.”

“Madison used to say, ‘Mom just goes OFF!’. So I don’t go ‘off’ as much as I used to, I don’t think. You just realize they are kids. Madison is the one who goes off these days,” Sheri laughs. “He says, ‘Mom, why don’t you get onto her?!’ and I say, ‘Because she’s a kid!’. That’s what kids do.”

Sheri Easter has had a life of challenges and joys, and her experiences have left this lady with a rich understanding of the treasures of life. She shares, “Last night, I went to bed at my normal time. I woke up about 4:00 this morning and started writing a song. It is a tune about things that will wait and things that won’t wait. For instance, holding your Mother’s hand one more time. That’s not something that can wait. So we have to take opportunities to do those things today.”

“I’d like to remind people that this is the only moment you have to enjoy and to embrace. However, your next breath is simply a gift from God. None of us are promised tomorrow.”

Sheri continues, “I keep telling my Mom, ‘I know the doctor has given you the title of degenerative disease, but every one of us is degenerating each day. We just have to trust God for every breath. We need to know that this is the moment to make things count and to say the things you need to say today.”

Sheri is truly a woman of substance and has a heart of compassion for those around her. As she pours her experience and life into her songs and performances, it is obvious that she is blessed with a gift of communication that is incomparable. The Lord has touched this lady’s life in many ways, and the Southern Gospel world is richer because of her.

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Written by Lorraine Walker July 2008

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