Up until she was around 12 years old, Sherri-Lynne Debra Elizabeth (Smith)Lilly lived on Wellington Road in St. George’s, where most of her family still resides.
After her parents got divorced, however, she moved to other more central parts of the island such as Devonshire and Warwick.
Ms. Lilley attended Francis Patton Primary School and went to Warwick Academy for middle and high school.
“ I loved Warwick Academy because at the time, my life at home was a little precarious and school was a way to escape,” she said. “ At the same time, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmantosa, a degenerative retinal disease which eventually left me totally blind. I started having very noticeable shifts in my vision while at Warwick Academy and I do not recall ever having night vision.”
Despite these vision changes being noticeable, Ms. Lilley still has a pretty normal high school experience complete with participating in several sports and excelling in academics.
“ School was my oasis and where I felt safe,” she said. “ I grew up in a family that had a lot of turmoil and there were times where I did not have a secure place to lay my head at night. All of this led to who I became and, anchored in my faith in Christ, I earned a Salvation Army scholarship to attend Catherine Booth Bible College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but that got interrupted.”
On her way to Canada in 1986, Ms. Lilley stopped in New York, where certain circumstances prevented her from continuing onto college. So, she decided to stay with her stepmother. While in New York, she learned how to navigate as her vision gradually worsened, got married at 20 years old and now has five children ranging from 13 to 30 years old.
According to Ms. Lilley, the trauma that she experienced as a child led to her being very afraid and broken in her heart, despite her intimate relationship with the Lord. It took her husband of 25 years packing his things up and leaving her for her to really see the true plan for her life.
“ Gradually losing my vision and going through the loss activated grief within me,” she said. “ I had signed up for every kind of program that was afforded to me in the U.S. to maintain my independence, and then I decided at age 43 to finally fulfill God’s plan in my life and go to college.”
With her dream in tow, Ms. Lilley started by taking a summer course in 2012 on how to navigate through college as a blind woman. In January of 2013, she started her first semester at Pillar College in New Jersey and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Counselling and Psychology, simultaneously earning a degree in Biblical Studies.
Despite losing her vision, Ms. Lilley graduated Magna Cum Laude, earned the Beverley Bush Award for Writing and Rhetoric and another award for exceptional leadership. She then earned a Master of Science in Education in Mental Health Counselling.
“ Now, I’m a therapist and counselor and in June of this year, I was hired as an adjunct professor back at Pillar College,” she explained. “ I never thought that anything I am doing today would be something I would be doing. I couldn’t see this far into the future, but God had a plan for my life and all I had to do was step into and be obedient to it.”
She also helped start a charity in Bermuda aimed at helping out other people with disabilities and works at the domestic violence shelter at the largest AME church in all of New York City, Greater Allen AME Cathedral.
“ My work in domestic violence is my passion work, because with the same strength that God has comforted me, I’m able to sit with these moms and let them know that I feel their pain,” she said. “ I love God, my family, others and life and to God be the glory.”
Ms. Lilley was always exposed to music while growing up and played the trumpet and cornet while at the Salvation Army and Warwick Academy. Her stepmother Rosalee Casanova Smith was one of the original members of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, back when it was a little church with a handful of members.
“ When I attended Brooklyn Tabernacle as a teen, I joined the youth choir and sang in the adult choir for about twelve years,” she said.
Ms. Lilley’s oldest son Christopher taught himself how to play the piano by ear and became proficient in the drums and the guitar. He then went on to receive Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in classical voice.
“ When the family gets together, the first thing we do is sing, play music and worship together,” she said. “ We like to go live on Thanksgiving and other holidays, because we know that there are immigrants around us that might have family members that they are sharing the holidays with. Music has always been an important part of how we have stabilized ourselves as a family.”
Ms. Lilley encourages anyone who may have disabilities or challenges of any kind to never give up.
“ God has a plan for all of our lives,” she said. “ Oftentimes, we might not understand why we are the chosen ones and we have to sometimes discover if we feel cheated or if we feel chosen.”
“ I believe that there is a true reason why people live with any type of exceptionality,” she continued. “ There is someone else you are meant to inspire, encourage, speak into their lives as you overcome [your disability]. When we are able to share with others how we are able to get through, then they are motivated to push through as well. You are worthy and deserve love, grace, kindness and good fortune.
Pick your head up and know that God has an incredible plan for your life.”
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