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Her Story: Dr. Kerri Hensarling

Her Story: Dr. Kerri Hensarling

{Forward&UP}

Written by: Bradley Jean

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

As a mother, one of my greatest joys and gifts was the day each of my 3 children was born. There was great anticipation, and joy, and excitement of meeting them for the first time.  I recall their wrinkly little faces and hearing them scream out for their first breath of fresh air.  How sweet it was to hold their tiny, new, soft bodies and I rested in awe of a miracle. I can remember staring and gazing in disbelief that this tiny human had come to life.

I remember wanting to stand in the window of my hospital room with my first born, a red-headed baby boy, so the light from outside could actually touch him.  I wanted to physically bring him into the light. He was new life. He was created in love, and he was meant to continue to shine light upon this earth.

So what then, when young, innocent, lives are taken too soon from us here? What’s next? It’s not in our plan. It’s not in our hopes and dreams to lose this gift we have been given. And what about their light? This is their most holy piece that’s meant for others to see and enjoy. Is it taken away too, forgotten? Or does it go on? And how do we go on?

A local doctor, Kerri Hensarling, will tell you that their light must definitely continue and baring the pain of loss is unimaginable. She has experienced this loss and sorrow first hand. Yet, there is a clear and present light that surrounds her family every day. Kerri is a light herself.  She has a peaceful, kind smile and carries herself with gentleness and strength.  She is a beautiful mother, of all boys, slow to speak and quick to love.

Kerri and her husband Robert lost their son Craig in January of 2017, due to an automobile accident. Craig was 18 years old. He was a senior in High School, eager to start a new chapter in life following graduation. This was never in their plan; loss, pain, grief and moving forward.

This is Kerri’s story.

A story of heartache and determination, filled with deep love that brings life and light into her son Craig.

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Kerri is in the business of daily miracles, as she is a leading OBGYN in Lee County. Since she was a young girl, Kerri always knew she would be a doctor. She is an Auburn native and attended South Alabama for her Undergraduate and Medical degrees. She recalls meeting with an advisor who asked her what her plan-B was if she didn’t get into medical school. A very determined Kerri was appalled that he would even question her.

“I didn’t need a plan-B. Never in my entire life did anyone question what I was going to do. I always knew I would do medicine.”

It wasn’t until later in medical school that Kerri decided to pursue obstetrics and gynecology. She learned that she highly enjoyed surgery but also wanted a job where she could connect with people and maintain relationships. Kerri didn’t know at the time how valuable this relationship side of her job would become.

”Delivering a baby never gets old. It is the coolest thing. Every single one is different. They’re all amazing.  And the power that women possess is absolutely amazing and what they can accomplish. I know now, that this is where I’m meant to be. I love it. Now I see it, now I feel it…And at the end of the day, I want to be happy and make a difference.”

And making a difference, she most definitely does. Kerri is known for her tight, personal relationships with the women she cares for. She’s an incredible doctor, kind and thorough. She’s seen women with perfect, joyful pregnancies but has also spent years praying and helping others through loss and infertility.

It was Kerri’s patients that drew her back into work just a couple weeks after Craig’s death. She says as hard as it was to return that first day back, she knew she needed to do it.

“It’s truly unimaginable.  But I knew, sitting at home, there wasn’t much I was going to gain.”

Craig’s death was sudden. Kerri recalls simply walking through the motions the first couple weeks, still a blur to her today. It wasn’t until days later, the grief set in and she knew every day would be different from here on.

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“My options were to stay at home and become the emotion, OR to feel it, to stand up, walk through it and pray for Him to lift me up and give me strength.  And to allow others to give me their strength too. I knew I would be better off at the end of every day, than I would be if I stayed at home. And I was, every time.  At the end of the day I ended up so much better than I started off.”

Kerri says she knew people were praying for her, and she could feel it as well.

“I never, ever in my life felt such strength. I don’t remember for weeks thinking about it. But I felt strong, I really did. And people said they prayed for me, and I knew they did. I think He just knows. Every day I became so much stronger. You need to be around people. I could feel people praying for me…You gain power in strength, every day.”

Kerri made a clever decision to separate her emotions from her daily routine. She wanted to go to work, she wanted to see people and still care for those around her. She also did not want the pain to take over her life, nor did she want to pretend like it didn’t exist.

Kerri set boundaries for herself. She was disciplined in her day, certain times were meant for crying and certain times were meant for pressing on and moving forward. It became her ritual to have a good cry every morning in the shower.  She allowed herself to feel the feelings but not to become them. At night, Kerri was saturated in reading.

“I can have really bad days as long as I claim it and get up and move through it. I can feel the need to cry and then move on. The oddest thing can trigger emotion and I’m not about to pretend like it doesn’t. I can accept it, then face it and move past it.”

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It’s the relationships, Kerri says, that ended up feeding her on a daily basis. She needed to see people. She needed to be fed by others. Kerri also realized how much she needed God, and not just to feel Him, but to see Him too.

“I remember thinking ‘Ok, what do I pray for, what do I need help with.’  I know this sounds selfish, but my thought was ‘I need to see you this year. I need to see you in real ways. I need help. I need real evidence.’”

Daily, Kerri was struggling with seeing God. She knew she was gaining strength from others, but it wasn’t enough. It was the one-on-one with God that Kerri was longing for. She longed to see Him in a real and present way.

“One thing I’ve learned through faith that I will never be able to learn through medicine is that so many things you can’t explain. When you get out of school and begin private practice, you’re taught to fix things, and sometimes you can’t. Especially in a field like mine, when 95% of the time it’s really beautiful, but when things are hard, they’re really, really hard.”

Kerri recalls four families she had come very close to over the last 10 years of practice. These families had been through many pregnancies, losses and struggles with infertility. She speaks of being invested in them and their lives, constantly caring on their behalf and praying over them.

“You see struggles that get to the soul of women and couples and you see things you can’t fix. There are some things that are just unknown and make no sense, and if you don’t have faith, you don’t get through it.”

Kerri says, it’s often too, that the ones that don’t make sense end up with the miraculous outcomes.

“You have patients that somewhere along the way had more faith than you did… They got it way before me, and you slowly learn, and it is in these situations you are able to see God present himself.”

Following Craig’s death, and Kerri’s prayer to see God, she truly felt and believed that the four families would receive babies this same year.

“The thing for me this past year, that was so brilliant and amazing, with what I do and the prayers I prayed, is that I got to see all 4 families have healthy newborns. You can’t deny that He answers. I know He did it for them, but I also feel like He did it for me. He timed it for me too.”

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In the end, says Kerri, you end up learning more about yourself through your patients. “It’s very humbling when you can finally say, ‘He’s the great physician.’ And when you can understand it and appreciate it and see the great works He can do.”

Kerri says it’s been truly amazing, to go through tragic loss and pain, and then to see God present Himself in the way He did. But through all this, from day one, Kerri’s most determined mission has been to keep the life of her son Craig alive.

“Craig was a free spirit! He was always happy. He was always smiling. He was sweet and kind, and a very relaxed soul. Craig never got in a hurry...”

Kerri believes it’s one thing to cry and be sad when you’re alone, but when you have three small children looking up to you every day for guidance, acceptance and love, it turns into something very different.

“You don’t want your children to see that every time you say his name you have tears in your eyes…I can’t cry and tear up every time I want to talk about him. It’s not okay. I have to let them know that this is a comfortable environment. And I don’t want them to forget him. Quinn was only 4. His memories will probably be based on stories we tell. I want to talk about him, a lot, so that they will always remember him.”

With tears in her eyes, Kerri says she cannot remember how many days at first it took to mutter his name without crying.

“Literally, from day one, we would talk about Craig and say his name. It was really, really hard. As little kids they don’t understand, and I didn’t want them to pull away from talking about him. I wanted to talk about Craig. I wanted them to talk about Craig. They’ve got to know every second how much he loved them. I want them to remember every little thing about him. I want them to remember his favorite foods, I want them to remember how he laughed, and the stories he told, so we have to talk about him constantly. We have to do things he would do…I don’t want them to forget him.”

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Kerri said it was very forced and intentional at first, just to make sure they would hear his name a lot. She and Robert wanted them to know it was ok to bring him up. Kerri said it took weeks and months of practice for her to finally be able to talk about him without crying. She was determined to continue sharing his light in her home and around her.

She gives credit to her husband Robert for being the champion in this department.

“Robert is a great story teller. He’s going to tell every story there is about Craig. He’s not going to hold back. He’s going to help keep Craig alive.”

When Craig passed away in January, Kerri soon knew that it would be very difficult to celebrate Easter in the spring. The family chose a trip to Colorado to have a change of scenery and something fun to celebrate together.

“It was beautiful, we could exhale and laugh. We left a piece of Craig on the mountains and he would have loved that.”

Kerri says, “I realize now, my grief wouldn’t be so deep if I didn’t love somebody so much.”

Kerri believes her ministry will grow because of the suffering she has felt. She knows there are still hard days ahead and she doesn’t think this year is going to be easier, just different.

“Call to God over and over again,” she says. “And when you feel too weak to stand, kneel to God…then stand again.”

 Picured with Kerri and Robert are Craig's brothers; Kyle, Tanner, Ellis and Quinn

Picured with Kerri and Robert are Craig's brothers; Kyle, Tanner, Ellis and Quinn

"Let all that you do be done in Love." 1 Corinthians 16:14

{Forward&UP} is a mission meant to inspire and encourage women all over through the telling of our stories and the changing of our hearts.

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