25 June 2006

The Path toward Faith

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teenager. Then once I was a teenager, I wanted to be in college. That sounded so mature. The freedom that comes with moving out and moving on in life is alluring, compared to living under parental authority. Once I was in college, being married and 25 seemed perfect. College is a giant leap from high school, but marriage means I'm an adult. A real adult. By the time I turned 25, I had been married several years and had my first child. And I realized something: with maturity comes responsibility. And responsibility includes making the hard decisions, missing out on some things, and perseverence. None of those really appeals to me.

It's been the same for me spiritually. As a young teenager I admired my student pastor's daughter, Christy, who was three years older and much more mature spiritually. It was because of her that I chose the college I attended; she went there, and I thought that if I surrounded myself with the same environment and people, I, too, would grow. And I desperately wanted to grow in my faith. I wanted to be a strong woman for God, with a faith that was admirable to others coming after me, like Christy.

I've been out of college eight years, and with time I've grown in many ways. Marriage and motherhood will do that. I've experienced the work of holding down a full-time job, managing a home, giving birth, and keeping those children when I really would've liked someone else to raise them. Especially during the terrible twos. Now that my full-time job is staying home, I've learned a lot about loneliness, boredom, doing the mundane when I'd rather not, restlessness, not judging other mom's decisions, and perseverence.

I really thought I was done. Not that I was perfect; that's never going to happen, and most days I'm not so inclined to try to achieve it. I figure that I'll be perfected in heaven, and so I'm enjoying my humanness on earth. But I really thought, okay Lord, I have a quiet time, I've read through the Bible, I'm a pastor's wife, and I generally refrain from yelling at my kids. I'm doing pretty well!

It's that mindset that has probably made the last seven weeks harder to bear. With the birth of my daughter--my long-awaited daughter, after two little boys--have come disappointment, shock, fear, anxiety, and sorrow like I never knew I could feel. Add to that a stay in the NICU, a trip to the ER, more than 15 doctor's appointments, a possible diagnosis from a geneticist that would be devastating, and an open-heart surgery that has now been moved forward several months to later this summer. And as if that's not enough, I have two little boys to take care of, give attention to, and keep safe. (The keeping safe part is probably the most trying! Standing on the kitchen table just seems to be more temptation than a toddler can fight off.)

Over the last seven weeks I've pondered how God could let this happen to me. To my dreams. To my family. And to my daughter. She may never know that she's different, but everyone else will. Being different has never been seen as good. We call it special, but everyone knows that's just a nice way for us to say "different." Nobody really wants to be different.

I've started reading the book, "Disappointment with God," by Philip Yancey. If there's any emotion I've felt most, that's it. Disappointment. And I didn't really expect to feel better by reading this book, but I figured I might as well do something, since there's very little else I can do right now. With a diagnosis that's uncertain, un-provable, and very rare, all we can do is wait. And I don't like to wait. So I'm reading.

This is what I've read today that has given me a measure of comfort: "Despite the honor accorded him as the father of this new race, however, Abraham emerges as the Bible's first example of a person severely disappointed in God." This refers to the promise God made to give him children. Twenty-five years later, he was still waiting. Then, "What kind of game was He playing? Whatever did He want? God wanted faith, the Bible says, and that is the lesson Abraham finally learned. He learned to believe when there was no reason left to believe. . .A cynic would say God taunted the creatures He was supposed to love. The Bible simply uses the cryptic phrase 'by faith' to describe what they went through. Somehow, that 'faith' was what God valued, and it soon because clear that faith was the best way for humans to express a love for God."

I can't say that I think it's fair that I have to learn faith this way. I look at other mothers and their healthy children and feel jealousy. My best friend is due to deliver her first daughter any day--any second--and as excited as I am for her, I can't pretend that I'm not sad for myself. But this is the path God has chosen for me. I don't know if I'll understand why before I get to ask Him face-to-face, or if it will ever be 100% okay. I doubt it will. And I also can't say that the idea of going through such a dark valley, with no end in sight, just to grow my faith, holds any allure for me. Like I said, I was fine with the way I am. I'd rather give up maturity for comfort and happiness. But this evidently is not what's on God's agenda for me, and I'm starting to see that I can either surrender and allow the work to begin, or I can continue to fight and just make it harder on myself, and harder on my relationship with Him.

Does this make me feel any better today? Not really. My life is still the same regardless of how I look at it. But I do have to admit that it does make me feel special that God is so interested in my growth that He would go to such great measures to make sure it happens.

As an interesting non-coincidence (I made that up, how do you like it?), my friend Lisa recently felt impressed on by the Lord to find someone with younger children who could write for her website, to minister to those moms with little ones who read her weekly journal. She has asked me if I'd like to do it (Um, how fast can I say yes?), and Monday, June 26th she'll be "introducing" me to her readers. When she first asked me, I wondered how my meager life experiences could be relevant. Several weeks later, I'm getting a glimpse. Please pray for me as I seek to use my own walk with Christ to bring glory to God and to minister to Lisa's readers.


  1. Wow, Sarah, that's wonderful! I can't wait to read what you put on her site. Someday soon I'll be able to look up Sarah Hartfield on Amazon, and there you'll be!

  2. Sounds like God is putting you through a storm for only reasons He knows right now. But, I'd bet my life if there is anyone who is strong enough in their faith to make it through I know it is YOU, Sarah H!

    Congrats on your offer from Lisa! This is only the beginning of a fun-filled adventure - have fun!

  3. I don't know how this will sound but I feel this so strong inside. I have been reading about your journey for a couple of months now and I am taken by your love for your husband, your family and for yourself. Many women our age are not comfortable in their own skin but I sense that you are. As these things have unfolded with your precious daughter and even though it has seemed tragic and totally horrible on some days, I feel like this time in your life is a gift. I don't know if it's as obvious to you as it is obvious to those on the outside that THIS very season is allowing you to experience something greater in order to minister to other women. When I went through a miscarriage in between my two children, I was encouraged, challenged and comforted by those women that had been in my shoes. It's the pain that gives us the pearls in life. I know I am just a reader and I don't really "know" you but I KNOW that God has a great ministry for you. He is opening doors all around you. He has strategically placed people in your life that will help you be all that God created you to be. Addison was your gift and she will forever change you. That's what daughters do. Sorry for writing so much.

  4. Sarah - First of all, y'all have been on my heart and on my mind all weekend. I'll continue to pray.

    Second, the news about you writing with Lisa - well, it brought tears to my eyes. HOW COOL IS THAT? I am so proud for you and tickled for you and every other good emotion I can think of.

    God is faithful. So faithful. I cannot say it enough.

  5. Sarah- I have a friend going through incredibly similar circumstances right now with her new baby girl--after 2 healthy sons. Please check out her blog www.iveysirmans.blogspot.com
    Grieving the death of your "fairy tale" is a story I know well..I was a "good girl" married to the love of my life--followed all the rules and honored God with my sexuality, only to struggle with infertility, then a high risk triplet pregnancy (including 8.5 weeks in the hospital for me, an additional 5 weeks in the NICU for my 2 & 3 lb preemies),near death cardiac & pulmonary complications for me, a CP diagnosis for one of my kids & mandatory tubal prescribed by my cardiologist.
    You know what...God is still Sovereign, I am greatly blessed and 2 years later, I HONESTLY cannot imagine my life any other way. "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:3-5 He is building an amazing testimony in your family!

  6. How awesome for you! I'm sure the writing opportunity must feel like a dream come true, and it most certainly is a "non-coincidence."

    As for the other dream, the one to grow in your faith and to be a strong woman for God, well that dream is coming true also. You are becoming that woman. It's harder than you imagined and not at all how you expected, but God's ways are not our ways, and only He knows best how to accomplish His will.

    Rest on His promise in Jeremiah 29:11 - For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

    God is faithful, and I'm still praying.

  7. I'm new here so I don't know exactly what's going on but it sounds like you've really been struggling lately. I'm saying a prayer for you and your family!!

  8. Sarah- Thanks for your comment. I am praying for your appointment today. My friend, Gwen (Ivey's Mama) would like to e-mail you privately. E-mail me at junkanon2002 at yahoo.com (my anonymous e-mail) and I'll put you two in touch.

  9. Sarah,
    I know this is unrelated to today's topic, but I just was introduced to you via Lisa Whelchel's website. I am just learning this 'blogging' stuff so please forgive me if this is not where I am supposed to post this.
    Will you please share with me any thoughts or ideas you have on starting devotions with my 10 year old daughter? I read where you started journaling your devotions when you were 10 and I really want to start doing this with my three girls who are 7 (twins) and 10.

  10. Hi, Sarah.

    I'm a reader of Lisa's, and I have been blessed by what I've read of your writings.

    I'll try to be brief.

    We have 4 children (ages 1 to 15). Two of them have disabilities. Our daughter has stood on the threshold of the Kingdom more than once, and God's plan has been to leave her here with us for the time being. Our only (and long-awaited) son has been given more than one devastating diagnosis. I wish I could say "I've been there," but instead I have to say, "I'm here." We're "in it." Still. Again.

    Bless you, Sister. Bless your baby. Bless your family. Bless your doctors. Bless your heart.

    The early part of our daughter's story reads much like yours, and, if it would help, I'd be glad to share as much of it with you as you'd care to hear.

  11. Berryszoo, thanks for checking out my site! I'm just now starting to think about what to do in the devotions area, now that our oldest is almost 5. We have several Bibles geared toward children, as well as some short devotionals that are for little ones. We try to read them to him every night. Right now, we're just focusing on Bible stories, as well as some of the attributes of God.

    Once he gets older and can read and write, I think we'll encourage him to journal what he's read about, how he can apply that, and any other insights he has. Hopefully this will give him an introduction to studying the Bible for himself.

    If you have a good Christian bookstore in your area, you might ask someone there what devotionals for girls are available, and which are the best. Our church's bookstore has several that look really good.

    Your 7 year olds will probably take to this without a fight; if your 10 year old is feisty like I was, she may need to think this was her idea to take to it well. Maybe you could involve her in doing devotions with the younger ones, so she is getting the knowledge while feeling like she's helping Mom out.

    I hope these tips help jump start your girls' devotions. One last thing---if you do yours early before they're awake or when they're at school, consider doing them a few times a week when they can see you doing it. Your example will encourage them more than anything else. :)

  12. Robin, Theresa, Amanda, and Boomama--hugs to each of you! Thank you for your encouragement, your prayers, and your cheerleading:) I'm so thankful for you all!

  13. berryszoo, I'm not Sarah, but I have done many "devotional" type things with my kids over the years. My older girls (9 and 15) really enjoy their "Journaling Toward Moral Excellence" journals (available at www.straightpathspress.com). There is a scripture verse and a writing prompt to get them started. Our 6-year-old son (who is autistic, among other things) has his own Journal like his sisters', and he dictates his answers and I write them.

    In respoonse to "I can love my enemies by..." he stated "the water." So I wrote it, and he drew a picture of water. What does it mean? Who knows?

    Our family reads "Daily Light" (available from Anne Graham Lotz at www.annegrahamlotz.com) most every day as well.

  14. Wow!!! I am so thrilled to know you have decided to accept Lisa Whelchel's invitation to contribute to her weekly coffee talk. And contribute you did!! I so enjoyed your blog! ( is that a bad word?)

    I am a mother of 5.. yes 5.. kids ages 17-4. ( I married at 19) Starting this Fall I will have a child in every school.. preschool, elementary, middle, high and COLLEGE!! AHHH.. I am getting old. ( I tell everyone I married when I was 3)

    I have endured playdough pizza's, Barney reruns, and days that seem to go forever. When I gave birth to my first child, my Mom shared some of her best "mom" advice..." The days will feel like they go on forever yet the years just seem to fly by..savor them". As we prepare to send our oldest child off to college in a few weeks I realized those days werent long....... the years DID flew by. ( I wish I had listened to those words of wisdom with a sense of urgency!)

    You see I have enjoyed every minute with my oldest child
    ( ok... well if we are being honest, I didnt enjoy the endless days of his refusal to poop on the potty until he was 4) But, as I look back and try to look forward ,all I can say is " I AM NOT DONE!!" I long for those endless days with him. Those long LONG stories he told while riding in our minivan because I encouraged conversation when he was a toddler. BTW , that thought process changed instantly when our 3rd child arrived in as many years) I quickly adopted the motto " Mommy needs silence while driving. I have to concentrate and the police man says TOTAL SILENCE is the safest way to ensure that". I often wished for someone to invent a little sound proof panel that would arise from the depths of the minivan between the front and the back seats at the push of a panic button ). Dont laugh.. you know you have secretly wished that too.

    The years do fly by...way way to fast. The dynamics of our family are about to change. I mourn that loss daily. You see, I knew one day my babies would become adults and go out and fulfill their dreams. I just didnt realize it would happen so fast. I miss him already . I miss the way he would lift his arms to me when he was 3 and say " Mommy.. holes you!!" ( hold you:)

    People think we are crazy for having 5 kids. I think God knew what he was doing. I have 4 children at home still to love , raise and cherish. Today, I sat with my 4 year old and made playdough pizza's, we spent an hour in the dollar store looking at EVERYTHING, and we read 15 books today. But, today as I took account of the day with him I cherished EVERY second. Because , in a blink my littlest one will be kissing me goodbye as he heads of to college.

    Having said all that, it is essential to have ME time. It isnt a luxury it is a necessity. I have to be full to give to my husband and children. I have chosen the career of motherhood fulltime. But, I am still a person that has interests, desires and goals. I am learning to balance that WITHOUT GUILT!! I have found a night out ( my husband lovingly calls it a KITCHEN PASS NIGHT) at the bookstore with a cup of coffee and a great magazine does wonders for the soal. Tack on a pedicure and ohhhhh life is bliss.

    Now that I have written a book I must go. My 4yr old is ready for bed and I MUST go read him a bedtime story...... :)

    Robyn Smyles

  15. Amen. To everything ... the pain, the frustration, the faith, the .. everything. I stumbled on your blog from Lisa's site, and feel like I've come home. I'm a mom of two, and recently dignosed with kidney failure- whap- outta blue! In 6 weeks we go from , Hi nice to meet ya and let's draw some blood to home dialysis 4x a day and looking for a donor. Now, I've had kidney issues my whole, life, prayed for "by the best" and have seen God do wonderous things in every surgical situation -- but, uh, hey! Could I get a straight road that leads me to grandkids and rockin chairs here please!!! You speak clearly and honestly, and I appreciate that so much. I struggle with being "in control" and keeing everyone else strong. Can't really say I've had my moment yet, out loud, and I think I need to. I learned that tonight, actually I think I "Heard" it tonight - got it, felt it, deep inside- reading this, and its ok to be angry - and ADMIT it -. Wow. Amen. God is faithful, mercy is everlasting .. but sometimes, why, what else do I need to learn. I'll be watching for updates and know that we're standing with you in prayer as well ;) Thanks again for being honest and putting it out there. livingingrace.blogspot.com

  16. That is grea tthat you will be writing for her. I will be sure to check it out.

    I am so sorry to hear about your daughter's health problems. It must be so agonizing.

    Have you met Heather yet from My Midlife Moments? Her blog is new. Her daughter has a serious heart problem. you can read her story on a link in her side bar. Her link is http://www.midlifemoments.com/

    I think she is wonderful and I'm goign to be interviewing her on my blog later this week. She may be a good friend for you as she will understand what agony you are facing.

  17. WOW! Sarah that is wonderful news. I can't wait to read your first article!

    Perhaps you could write an article on what we should do--those of us who haven't really encountered this kind of trial and have to take the small wounds we have and extrapolate them to have any understanding of what to do or say in these moments.

    OK, and I LOVE the picture.

  18. I feel so blessed to be visiting this site. I was "introduced" to you from Lisa's site...and also live in the DFW area. I am a mommy of two that are four and two and can't wait to visit this site and enjoy your raw and honest input. The story of your children is truly inspiring. We have also visited a geneticist for our daughter and I understand the never ending worry that goes along with what we know and don't know. Thank you for your time...energy... and words. :)

  19. Even in your open and honest dissapointment with God, you show your continued faith in Him. I'll keep lifting you all up in prayer. ((Hugs))

  20. It goes without saying, Sarah. We're so proud of you we're bursting our bottons.

    Aunt Barb

  21. Hi Sarah!

    Thank you for your thoughts. I will be reading them regularly!

    I have 5 children aged 6 and under (my last two kids were a bit of a surprise for us - twin boys!)

    Our home is so crazy and so noisy and so much fun.... and just so darn constant! Not even sure what that means!

    I have learned MUCH in the past 6 years. I have discovered parts of my character that I didn't even know were there (who knew I was capable of such levels of frustration???) and I have re-discovered my very present need of God. Not just in the big stuff (ie. salvation!) but in the very much minute-to-minute moments of my day. There are days when in and of myself I simply so not have what it takes to deal with another middle-of-the-night-feed, or another pea up a nose. God's help and endless resources are very much a reality of my life now. Oh how present He is!

    I just deleted a couple more paragraphs I wrote. Guess I could fill a few pages!

    Anyway Sarah, thank you for sharing your walk with us. Hope your day is a good one!

  22. Sarah,
    Thank you for sharing your story and feelings so honestly. Since you said that hearing others' stories helps you feel like you have company in the valley, I thought I'd send another link for you to check out.

    Some friends of mine have been through the ringer the last few months with their daughter. She had a rare blood disorder and ended up getting a bone marrow transplant, among other treatments. She is still recovering.

    They have a web page where they kept a journal of the experience. You can visit it here: http://www.caringbridge.org/cb/inputSiteName.do?method=search&siteName=adelinehopekunkel. (Sorry for the Loooong link) From the main page, just click "journal" then sort by date to get the oldest post first.

    It was challenging and encouraging to me reading their honest and heartfelt cries out to God through the whole experience.

    I will pray that God will sustain you in the midst of this.

  23. Oh sweetie, I can so relate. Especially to the part about having other children to take care of. We spent 5 months in ICU, and I can tell you (you already know this) that it sucks the life out of you... and then to have added to that a possibly horrendous disease- you and I are kindred spirits in this journey.

    I wish that I could come over and bring some tea or coffee, and just sit with you and listen to your hearts questions. I wish that there was a magic wand, but there isnt. There are, however, joy in the moments, despite the journey to those moments. There are times when you think that you cant do it anymore, yet you find yourself finding strength in places in your soul that you never knew existed.

    You find you can do this, not only because you have no other choice, but because you love this child unconditionally. You are a strong vibrant woman and mom, and your savior has not forgotten you.

    Please feel free to email me anytime, we have so much in common- so very much.


  24. Sarah,

    I found your blog thru Lisa's website. Enjoy your writing.

    I'm sorry that God is bringing you thru this valley right now. One of my favorite verses is Zephaniah 3:17 - "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."

    God has a song for your life, and He's singing it over you & Addison now. You may not be able to hear it right now, but you will in time.

    Praying for you....

  25. Hi Sarah,
    I popped in here from Lisa's website -- so thankful you'll be offering us your words of encouragement! I recognize Boomama and Owlhaven from your blogroll.

    I've been mommyblogging since last fall -- I have five little ones, 1,3,5,8, and 10. The years go by fast -- may God bless your every step!

  26. Hi Sarah,
    I popped in here from Lisa's website -- so thankful you'll be offering us your words of encouragement! I recognize Boomama and Owlhaven from your blogroll.

    I've been mommyblogging since last fall -- I have five little ones, 1,3,5,8, and 10. The years go by fast -- may God bless your every step!

  27. Are Dad and I allowed to just be plain ole proud of you; not just for the writing thing (although its nice the college degree is being used) but for who you've grown into. Wish we'd seen a little glimpse of this when you were about 12 years old!


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