The Broken and the Beautiful

In 1983, when my mom found out she was pregnant, the decision to keep the baby or not was not an easy one. A close relative was the first to suggest she abort and move on with her life, and my mom’s boyfriend said he’d go along with whatever she decided. She was 19. She was pro-choice. She was unwed. She was a college student working at a fast food restaurant… and she was a woman with a strong heart. She decided to keep the baby. My mom and dad got married, and I was born that October. They had no idea before my birth that I had any disability, and due to the rarity of the defect, the doctors had no idea what they were dealing with. I had “stork bites” (blood vessels close to the surface) on my face, and those combined with the disfigurement of my arms caused the doctors to give my young parents the grim diagnosis: I was blind, mentally challenged, I would never walk or be independent, the list went on. We’re not sure what all they said, because my mom says she just sort of tuned out at a certain point. Understandable. I was sent to the NICU at a bigger hospital the next day, where they correctly diagnosed me with AMC, and assured my parents that I could lead a relatively normal life. (For more about AMC, click here.) My parents did their best to treat me like any other child. I learned to write with my feet, ride a bike without training wheels, I attended a regular private Christian school, and learned to adapt to my surroundings quickly. While I always had friends, I was also very shy and afraid of rejection, so my circle of friends was pretty small. By the time I was in junior high, my shyness had morphed into a serious lack of self-esteem, and I struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide. From the outside, I looked like a happy-go-lucky sweet little church girl, but on the inside, I was a mess. I know none of my readers can relate. ;)

High school for me was a time of just hanging on. I knew college would be better, so if I could just make it out of high school alive, life had to improve. I didn’t fit in. My physical limitations kept me from doing my hair the “cool” way and wearing the “cool” clothes. I was a band geek. My parents had me driving this:

The popularity gods had conspired against me. I was doomed to be an outcast. But, I knew if I could make it through, I could find other outcasts like me to fit in with in college. I pretty much did. Their influence was some for the better (when it came to my self-confidence), more for the worse (when it came to my morals and behavior). I was so wrapped up in the thought that these people liked having me around that I began compromising the beliefs I had cherished since childhood. Again, I’m sure that none of my readers can relate. I was beginning to come out of this wilder phase of my life when I fell in love with a wonderful man. He knew about my previous wildness, and my devoutness previous to that. He knew every dirty little secret I could think to tell him, and nothing budged him. His love for me was unshakable. In that way especially, my husband shows me a great example of my Father’s love and acceptance. After meeting at Dairy Queen, we were married a year and a half later on a beach in the Dominican Republic:

Less than a year later, we were excited to confirm that we would be having a baby. Adam and I were not worried about how I would manage. Adam isn’t the type to worry about me in that way, and I was confident that I would figure things out. But when others started asking questions, I began to feel some stress. I started to fear that I might have created a life that I was incapable of sustaining. After Ethan was born, though, I started to realize that my (and their) fears had been unfounded. God had already provided me with the creativity to work around most things, and a wonderful husband to help me with the few things I couldn’t do on my own. When Ethan was 8 months old, I was checking out CNN.com one morning, and saw that they were asking for people to upload stories of how families cope with disabilities. My first thought was, My story is pretty interesting… I could upload a video… but then my insecurity immediately told me I was nuts. I’ve spent my whole life trying to show people that I’m NOT disabled. I purposely wore long-sleeved t-shirts to certain events so people wouldn’t notice my arms. I would wait until a grocery aisle was cleared of people before I grabbed something down with my foot to avoid stares (actually, I still do this). “So, really?!” my insecurity said, “you want to put your nasty arms on CNN.com?”  Do you know what I finally decided after a couple days’ worth of thinking? My arms are my arms, whether I like them or not, and hiding them is just ridiculous. They’re attached. They’re not going to go away. And if my story can encourage somebody, then I’m going to tell it, even if it makes me uncomfortable. So, the next day, I set up the tripod and video recorded our morning, edited it and uploaded it before I could rethink it. Later, I got a call from a CNN producer who had a few questions, and the next day, when I pulled up CNN.com, I saw this:

We got our picture with the Pope! Since that time, I’ve had many other opportunities to encourage others just by telling my story, as imperfect as it is. And what is that story? It is not one of conquering all obstacles. There are many, many obstacles that I cannot conquer… I just don’t post those moments on YouTube. My story is not that of a girl who’s overcome all odds to achieve greatness. Sure, I’ve had some odds to compete with, but for all intents and purposes, I’m a stay-at-home mom who hasn’t completed college. As accomplishments go, I’ve hardly achieved anything spectacular.  However. What I have found in my life is a measure of “Letting Go,” and self-acceptance. We all have things about ourselves we’d like to hide. There are things we’re ashamed of and we’d rather pretend aren’t there. But what I found, in my blatant disregard for my insecurity, was that the very ugliness I hated so much was right where God’s purpose for me was planted. I was happy to let Him use my writing or musical talents for His glory, but it took a long time for me to surrender my weakness to Him… turns out that’s where His power works best. We say God loves us, and we tell others that God loves them, but do we really believe it? Do you believe that God’s love is bigger than even the ugliest flaw (be it character, physical, etc.)? If we keep things from Him, He can neither heal them, nor use them to heal others. So take some time to search your heart… be honest with yourself about what you find there. And then, be honest with your loving Heavenly Father. Give Him your weakness and see what His power can do.

47 thoughts on “The Broken and the Beautiful

  1. wow Sarah. You’ve always seemed so strong and self assured to me. I’ve always thought you are awesome. And you said some thing in this entry that made me think. Since Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden, we have all been hiding things we’re scared will reveal our imperfections. And I love your line “If we keep things from Him, He can neither heal them, nor use them to heal others”

  2. Sarah, you were one of my favorite people in 4th and 5th grade. Your friendship was one of those that I appreciated most at that time, because you accepted me as I was and I felt less insecure around you.

    Probably one of my favorite memories was of you and Gretchen helping me throw water balloons at the other girls at Leslie’s birthday slumber party (man it was cold that morning) – because they froze my underwear and TP’d me when I fell asleep. Sweet Revenge! lol

    Tiffany O.

  3. Annie:
    You’ve got me wracking my brain to figure out which “Annie” you are! lol. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the garden of Eden thing… Shame seems to be a big part of The Curse.

    Tiffany:
    Oh man, I remember that sleepover! I learned a valuable lesson that night: never be the first one to fall asleep! ;) Glad I was there to help you get your sweet revenge, and to make you feel accepted. That is a hard age for everyone, I think. It doesn’t seem like ANYONE feels like they “fit in” at that time of life.

  4. “I was happy to let Him use my writing or musical talents for His glory, but it took a long time for me to surrender my weakness to Him… turns out that’s where His power works best.” -Love this! I didn’t realize until I read those lines how independent I insist on being about my weaknesses. I do hide them from God, thinking I need to “take care of them” (as if He’s not aware!)

    What a compelling blog post — Thank you for sharing your story!

  5. Congratulations! What an awesome story of faith, beginning with your mother’s decision continue her pregnancy, the story of your birth, your life and your parent’s 25 years later, against all odds!

    Have a great time at the conference.

  6. What a great testimony to God and His faithfulness in your life and how He has had His hand upon you from the beginning.
    Have a wonderful time at the conference!

  7. Congratulations on going to the conference!!!! I’m SO happy for you! Blessed to have found your blog and praying for you on your journey.

    in His precious, unfailing love,
    Melanie

  8. Hi Sarah–Congratulations to you! I clicked over here from Ann’s. Your story is so beautiful and you tell it so well. I’m delighted that you won the scholarship; I know God will use your story and your words to encourage so many.

  9. Sarah, thank you for sharing your story and for obeying God’s prompt to put yourself, all of yourself, out there. God’s story in you really encouraged me today, and I’m so thrilled for you and your opportunity to attend She Speaks!

  10. Congratulations!! Your story deserves to be told… This. is beautiful.
    “the very ugliness I hated so much was right where God’s purpose for me was planted.” And that preaches!! And convicts. But only in the best of ways. I hope to meet you this summer.

  11. Congrats! I love stories like yours. They truly inspire all of us. Thank you for being willing to share your life. You are beautiful. I hope to get to She Speaks this summer. If I do, I hope to hug your neck. Much love from Colorado Springs,
    Tiffany

  12. Sarah, my heart is thrilled that you won the scholarship to SheSpeaks! God’s awesome plans for you are continuing to unfold and I am blessed to see a small portion of them. Congratulations, sweet sister. Keep shining for Jesus.

  13. “If we keep things from Him, He can neither heal them, nor use them to heal others.” and “Give Him your weakness and see what His power can do.” Well said, Sarah, and so excited for you to attend She Speaks!

  14. Congratulations on winning the She Speaks scholarship! I am so excited for you. I prayed for God’s best to win and love how He chose you!

    Your story is amazing and hope-filled! Keep sharing with the world.

    Super-sized blessings to you!

  15. Congratulations Sarah! Your story is so filled with love and grace. Have a wonderful time at the Conference. I know the Father has something special for you!

  16. Congratulations Sarah! – on winning the scholarship to SheSpeaks but more than that…Congratulations and thank you for letting God speak through your writing and your story… right now, today, to me and many others. You inspire me…despite all my insecurities! God bless you!

    Grace & Peace,
    Sharon

  17. Yay! You blessed me through your story and I know God is going to use you to bless countless others through what you learn at SheSpeaks. Congratulations, keep sharing and inspiring!

  18. Sarah I am humbled by your story.. Thank you for sharing, and may God be glorified as you continue to share at She Speaks!~! Hallelujah!!
    Bonnie

  19. Sarah,

    Thank you for helping us search within! Your story is encouraging and a tremendous blessing. Enjoy the conference and keep writing! Way to be a beacon of His Light!

    God Bless

  20. Anonymous says:

    Congratulations, Sarah, on winning the She Speaks scholarship. I have prayed for you and your ministry, may God’s power reign over you and your book/speaking! Kim from Michigan.

  21. Wow!!! What an amazing story. You definitely deserve to go to She Speaks. I’ve been and it’s a wonderful experience. I can’t wait to see how God is going to use you. Amazing!!!

  22. Hi Sarah.

    I was confused when I saw the winner at Ann’s website today because it was my number. But then I get confused easily, the ten finalists were re-numbered.

    I think your story is amazing. I totally understand these feelings and wrestle with them myself. I was without a disability and now I have one. I am in about my 6 month of a new disease and 2 years of being disabled and I really hate it. I don’t understand God’s purpose in this yet. I feel to old and to useless, not to gain sympathy it is a real confession. Becoming disabled when I thought I was in God’s will has been the greatest trial of my life. I don’t even know why I am sharing this here. Except you shared your fears. I am looking at Jeremiah 29:11 and asking…really?

    I do congratulate you on winning and I think the world will love to know you. God is in control and faithful. Your baby is beautiful and so are you.

  23. Congratulations Sarah! You are a winner in more ways than I can count! She Speaks is a wonderful experience and I know God has a wonderful plan for you! If it is God’s plan for me, maybe I will see you there! Congratulations again!

  24. wow! congratulations, Sarah, and what a heartwarming story you have! what a wonderful, gracious heart, beautiful marriage and sweet baby you have birthed and loved well! so glad you shared your story with all of us, and i am confident that you will continue to bless women with your unique gift! blessings to you!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Sarah, Our grandson has AMC. Thank you for sharing your story. God bless you for it…..and what great writing skills you have!
    An older brother.

  26. Thank you for all the congratulations I’ve received on winning the She Speaks scholarship. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to participate and am eager to learn and make new friends!
    I am so blessed that my story has touched many of you. God doesn’t waste a single tear we shed. He is good, is He not?

  27. Anonymous says:

    Sarah, My 2 year old grandson Luca also has AMC. I pray for him on his journey with the Lord, and for his parents, every day. Your parents are inspiring and should write their book!

    RE the contest, I wish I personally had the funds to send a scholarship to each of the 10 finalists. Could the Conference find a sponsor to scholarship each of you?

  28. My parents definitely have incredible stories of their own, and I have no doubt that if they chose to share more, they would have people interested in listening. :)
    As to the scholarships, I know they give out more than just the one, but I was the only winner of this particular contest. The other finalists were not informed that they were finalists, so they don’t know that they were so close to winning. I was the only one notified. They give other scholarships out to applicants based on need, I think, so if someone entered the contest and wouldn’t be able to go without financial assistance, they could apply and maybe even raise funds in their church… This contest was not the only way for attendees to get financial help. :)

  29. what a beautifully inspiring story~

    i’m so glad you won the scholarship and i look forward to seeing how God is going to use you to continue to bless others.

    thank you for your courage in sharing.

    amber

  30. Duciek Andre says:

    Sister Sarah,

    What a joy to watch you at Christian TV, your history touch me a lot, I saw you today and know how faithful you are to the Lord and His kingdom work.

    We are humble servants that are honored to hold your hands in prayer and to be your feet, hand to go out and impact many places in this world that God directs us to influence.
    I am from South Sudan East Africa, working as preacher for seven years with local churches in rural areas.
    I really need your book to share with our pastors for the glory of God, also I would like to encourage you to keep watch (www.emmanueltv.tv) to inspire your life I watched in that channel history like yours.
    But with God everything is possible, I believe you are the miracle for God’s people all over the world.
    Please know that we pray for you, you have prayers lifted on your behalf from South Sudan, all went straight to the throne of Grace, and we sincerely hope you feel our impact at times in your lives with your testimonies.

    Joyfully & Faithfully you Friend-South Sudan- East Africa

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