Fat, Jewish and On Drugs 

By Terri Nighswonger

 “Fat, Jewish and on drugs.”
That statement by a stranger turned Sheri Rose Shepherd’s into a full-time motivational speaker almost overnight.

The blunt statement prompted Shepherd to share her testimony for the first time about eight years ago at her husband’s seminary reunion dinner.

"I was sitting at the table with 24 strangers when a woman at the table said, ‘I heard you were fat, Jewish and on drugs,’ in those words," she said. "Everyone at the table stopped crunching their croutons, and all eyes were on me.

"That’s the first time I shared my testimony. I shared how I’d come from a dysfunctional family. My parents were married and divorced three times each."

Shepherd also shared how she was severely overweight in high school and addicted to drugs. It was a time when she didn’t know the Lord – yet.

"When I was 16, I almost lost my life to a drug overdose – LSD. I shared that at the table. Sharing that scared me," she said.

Shepherd’s step mom, her dad’s second wife, was instrumental in helping her get her life together and challenged her to make changes.

"She asked me how long I was going to blame my past for the choices I was going to make for today," Shepherd said. "I started building a foundation for myself from the outside in, unfortunately. I did lose over 60 pounds and got off drugs, improved my grades, started my own production company, started winning beauty pageants and ended up falling apart inside because I didn’t have a foundation based on God’s foundation." When Shepherd was 24 years old, she contemplated suicide with sleeping pills.

"I didn’t take them. I held them in my hand and cried out to God, and said, ‘God, if you exist, show me.’ The next day, two Romanian missionaries led me to Christ. They were the grandparents of a boyfriend of mine, and I had been invited to their home. Their lives changed mine."

A week after Shepherd shared her testimony, the woman who made the blunt comment about her at the dinner called Shepherd with an invitation. She was the director of a large Christian organization, and the conference speaker had canceled. She asked if Shepherd could share her testimony with 400 Christian leaders in Phoenix.

"I said, ‘No, I’m not a speaker, and people like me don’t speak in front of Christian leaders,’ " she said. "Back then, I thought Christian leaders never sinned. I thought they must be perfect or they wouldn’t be Christian leaders."

The woman told Shepherd, "Sheri Rose, God didn’t pull you out of that dark place for you to keep it to yourself. He pulled you out so you could pull others out also."

"Being Jewish, you can manipulate me with guilt pretty easily," Shepherd said. "I said that I would share that story. I shared my testimony, and the next thing I knew, I was getting all these phone calls at our house. People were saying, ‘Would you come speak at my retreat?’ ‘Would you speak at my church?’ ‘Would you speak at a luncheon?’ People wouldn’t stop calling."

Once Shepherd saw the demand for her testimony and decided to go on the speaking circuit. Before long, she was speaking to between 50,000 and 100,000 women a year, and publishers started to ask her to write books. She also was asked to be the national spokesperson for Teen Challenge.

Shepherd’s first book, "Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal," is her testimony written in a comedy form. It takes a funny, touching and sometimes sad and honest look at her past and the things that new and "mature" Christians alike fall into, literally in her case.

It was during Shepherd’s first beauty pageant when she fell off the runway and into the judges’ laps. As she jumped up and brushed herself off, she told them, "I just wanted you to remember me." They did, because she won the pageant.

Shepherd continued writing, with an article for a family magazine entitled, "Do you love your family enough to take care of you." From that article came a book for women with eating disorders: "Fit for Excellence: God’s Design for Spiritual, Physical and Emotional Health." More than 50,000 copies were sold in seven months, with about 5,000 a month still being sold, she said.

Shepherd also wrote a cookbook for women who are tired: "Eating for Excellence." The book is designed to help women get back their energy.

"The first four chapters talk about how I lost over 60 pounds and conquered chronic fatigue syndrome," she said. "There are over 100 original recipes in the book. It’s a real fun book."

A new project in the works is a video series based on the "Seven Ways to Build a Better You" workshop and seminar. Shepherd’s ministry, Foundation for Excellence, is also in the process of publishing a seven-week Bible study with a workbook program that incorporates the "seven ways" message.

Shepherd recently was in Cleveland to do the workshop that "crosses ages and generations," she said, adding participants have ranged in age from 7 to 70.

Shepherd also is keynote speaker for the Women of Virtue tour.

"I don’t know how I got that position, but God trusted me to have it, so I’m thankful for that," she said. "I feel very intimidated when I’m the keynote speaker with people like Florence Littaur and people like that. I’m thinking, ‘Who in the world am I.’ "

Shepherd not only has the opportunity to share her testimony with Christians and Christian leaders, but God has placed her in front of secular audiences. In 1994, she won the crown of Mrs. United States.

Shepherd’s production company was supposed to produce the Mrs. Arizona United States Pageant, but after two miscarriages and being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, an exhausted Shepherd felt unable to fulfill her duties.

"I had called the director of the Mrs. United States pageant and told her she’d have to get a new director for the state of Arizona," Shepherd said. "She said, ‘No way. You have a contract with me. You have to stand in for your state.’ "

Shepherd’s argument fell on deaf ears, so she ended up representing the state of Arizona as a contestant. She was tired and depressed by what she perceived to be failures in her life and was in no shape physically or emotionally to continue with the pageant, she said. She had 20 pounds of "Twinkies and potato chips" to get rid of in a hurry and a pageant wardrobe to buy with no money.

God opened the doors because He had other things in mind.

"I thought God was just giving me divine appointments to witness to people. I ended up winning the crown. That took me from witnessing to the church to witnessing to the world," Shepherd said.

Because of the miscarriages and the chronic fatigue, that’s how Shepherd got such a passion for eating for excellence.

"One nice thing about the Mrs. United States title, the drug problem and the weight is it got me on secular television, and I can talk about the Lord," she said.

In addition to being on Christian programs such as "The 700 Club," Shepherd has appeared on "Inside Edition," NBC, ABC and CBS News. She’s also been featured in publications such as The National Enquirer, First magazine, TV Talk Weekly and Role Model magazine.

Shepherd wants people to know it’s not where you start in life, but where you finish that counts and that God has a plan for every life He creates.

"Don’t ever put a period where He has a comma, because it’s never too late to turn your life around," she said. "Think about Joseph, who started out hated, rejected and thrown into prison and finished his life in a palace, or Queen Esther, who started as an orphan and finished as queen and was used to rescue her people.

"I feel that you can finish your life strong if you’ll take the time to build a foundation on God’s foundation. From 1 Timothy 6:19, we know that God’s solid foundation stands firm." C

Shepherd, her husband and 10-year-old son recently moved to Sisters, Oregon. She recently learned she is expecting her second child.