Welcome back, friends! I am excited to introduce the first in a series on how God is working in the real lives of real people. Over the next several months, I will have the privilege of introducing you to people who have found God to be faithful in both the ordinary and the extraordinary. Their situations may echo something in your own life, or they may not, but in either case, I hope that you will hear what they have to share and be encouraged.
Today we will be hearing from Sarah, who has recently had the opportunity to prove God’s faithfulness. In February 2011, Sarah and her husband found out that they were expecting their first child, a little girl, whom they named Elliana, meaning “God has heard”. Certainly it seemed that God had heard their prayers for an addition to their family. Sadly, at 26 weeks into Sarah’s pregnancy, they discovered that Elliana had a very serious heart condition. Elliana was born on October 22, 2011, and underwent surgery to begin repairing her heart within a few days. After 7 weeks, it became apparent that though Elliana’s spirit was very strong, her heart simply could not keep up. After a couple of very difficult days, she passed away on December 13. In the midst of all these struggles, the question on many minds was, Where is God in this? We all wanted to find some reason why God would take such a beautiful little girl away after such a short time with her family. Colt, Sarah’s husband, answered the question very well when he said that the answer was not to be found in Elliana’s healing or death, but in the way that God sustained them through all of the ups and downs of her short life. I can attest to the fact that though she was with us for such a short time, Elliana made a big impact on my life, and the lives of many others. It is Sarah’s hope, as well as mine, that by sharing the things learned through this difficult time, others will be encourage to look for and find God’s faithfulness to them, no matter what the circumstances.
CL: Thank you for being willing to share with us, Sarah. To start off, can you tell us, in just a few words, your understanding of who God is?
Sarah: God to me is someone that wants to be involved in every aspect of my life, whether large or small. I believe that He is worthy of our praise, affection, love, and devotion. I believe that who He is should always be at the very center of who I am.
CL: You have recently experienced some significant trials in your life. Prior to entering this time, how would you have described your trust in God?
Sarah: I trusted God to do what He saw fit in my life, but I never expected it to bring pain. So, in a way I trusted Him to bring blessing because I was serving Him. I knew it wasn’t Biblical, but it was easy to think that if I just lived my life the right way, only good would come.
CL: You found out midway through your pregnancy that your daughter, Elliana, would be born with a serious heart condition. What were your first thoughts?
Sarah: My first thoughts were, “There is no way”, “They must have made some mistake” and “How could this be happening to us?” You hear about other peoples’ stories of difficulty, but you never think it will happen to you.
CL: How did God sustain you during your months of waiting?
Sarah: The first few weeks were by far the hardest. My world seemed tossed into turmoil with trying to not fear, thinking maybe I had done something wrong, and trying to find some sort of normalcy. God worked on me a lot during that time, challenging me with His word and beginning to show me what it meant to cling to His truth and believe it for myself. Up until this point I had believed the Bible, but I had never had a situation like this in which I had to cling to His promises with every ounce of my being.
CL: Was it difficult to make the choice to open your heart to your daughter even though her future was so uncertain?
Sarah: Truthfully, that was not hard for me. From the beginning I loved our baby. By the time we found out about her heart I had already enjoyed almost 2 months of feeling her kick, and each movement allowed me to dream about what she was like. Her uncertain future brought fear, yes, but it never remotely changed how much I cherished her.
I think when we first realized she would have a difficult start I looked at Colt and there was this kind of knowing that this changed nothing. We knew that no matter what it took, we would be with her every step of the way. I wholeheartedly believe that if she were still with us, we would be doing that now. It never would have stopped.
We both also loved her from the moment we heard a baby was coming. None of that ever changed just because her heart didn’t form the way most do. Through the course of her life, God granted us the ability to see, even for a short season, all the unique attributes that were clearly hers. I look back and see every moment we cherished with her as an absolute gift.
CL: What were some ways that God made your heart glad during Elliana’s time with you?
Sarah: There really were many times God brought joy in our weeks with Elliana, and even before she was born. It had been a couple months that we had known about her heart condition, the three surgeries that would be required, and the extra care that would be needed, and the bigger she got the more I looked forward to meeting her, no matter what the days ahead entailed. I will never forget the joy and yet nervousness I felt about what lay before us when I went into labor and Colt rushed me to the hospital (an hour away). Ten hours after we got to the hospital she was born, and I cannot express the indescribable joy and pride that I felt looking at our daughter and hearing her first cry. When I got to hold her for 2 minutes before they had to whisk her away, it was incredible. It was in that moment that I knew I had been created to be her mother. This was what I was made for. She just stared back at me content and curious. I will never forget that moment, filled with awe, joy, and a peace that no matter what would come, God would be with us and we would get through it.
Elliana holding Sarah’s hand in the NICU
CL: Did Elliana’s life teach you anything new about God?
Sarah: Her life taught me that no matter what you face, God will be there. I had an idea of this concept before, but more than ever I cherish my walk with God. He is my delight and my joy. Even though I hope and pray there is not further pain in the days ahead, such as we have gone through, I know without a doubt that God will get me through.
Her life also taught me more clearly that His ways are not necessarily our ways. Though I would love to tell a success story of how she got better and is alive today, she isn’t. God sometimes doesn’t do what we want Him to do and it doesn’t mean that He isn’t just as good and just as faithful. I have learned that God sometimes uses our pain and our weakness to show His power. Though the pain we have walked through has been unimaginable, He still brings hope. How is that? you may ask. The God who can perform miracles, yet sometimes chooses not to, still decided to perform a miracle in the healing of my heart. So even though God didn’t give me what I asked for, and chose to ask us to give up our only child, I am honored that He felt that with Him, we could make it through this. Even though He said no to what we asked, He did say that His grace is sufficient. It truly has been. Though I hope and pray no one goes through anything like what we have been through, I do hope others will see that through our pain and weakness He will be strong and give us His grace if only we will let Him.
CL: Elliana passed away after just seven weeks with you. Do you feel that your trust in God has changed since then?
Sarah: Yes, trust to me is not trusting God to do what I want or even what I prefer. Trust is literally giving up the reins and saying “God, have your way, even if I don’t understand it.” I don’t think that kind of trust comes from living life when everything goes the way you hope. It is a different way of living life and a different way of seeing that which He has given you. Even now, choosing to trust God is a choice I have to make daily. My faith isn’t something I “feel,” at least not very frequently; it has become what I must have each day to make it through. He has to be my source, or I fall apart.
CL: In what ways does God make your heart glad now, even as you are still grieving for your daughter?
Sarah: Probably the biggest way has been through our joy in expecting our second child. Just 2 ½ months after Elliana passed away we found out we were pregnant again. Now, 27 weeks along, we recently found out we are expecting a little boy and that he is healthy and strong! What joyful news for us! We have found that after all we have walked through, we cannot take a day for granted. Expecting and giving birth to a healthy child is a huge gift that many parents take for granted, and I can say for us it is one of the biggest blessings we will ever be given. I still struggle with trusting our child’s life into God’s hands, knowing that only He knows the future of this little one. and of all our lives as well. But, His grace truly is sufficient for each and every day. So, no matter what comes, He is faithful and full of goodness.
Another way that God has made my heart glad is in memories of Elliana. It may sound odd, but God has helped me remember her with joy and hope. I loved being her mother and it was one of the greatest joys of my life. I can look back, and even though she died, I would never change any of it. Yes, I wish she were here, but even knowing what would happen in advance, I would go through it all again because of the joys of loving her.
Another huge blessing God has given that I am able to rejoice in is my husband. God has brought us together in ways I never thought He could do through the grief of losing our child. Because of the pain we have faced together, we can look at life and be thankful for all we have been given. Even in the midst of the pain, God has given us times of such deep joy, laughter, and a love for life that I can only attribute to Him.
CL: Is there any advice you can offer to those of us who want to help a friend or family member through a difficult loss?
Sarah: The biggest blessing for me has been those people who are willing to sit and listen. They don’t try and solve the problem or the pain of grief; they simply are there with me to hear whatever I have currently been working through. A mother who lost her 18 year old son shared with me the most helpful, compassionate words she heard in her process of grieving, given by a friend: “I will never tire of hearing stories about him. Even if they’re the same ones over and over again. I’ll always be here to listen.” That to me is one of the greatest things a person can do. No matter if the day is full of joy or sorrow; they are there to help by simply being there.
Our pastor also said something to us that has been so true for my husband and I. He explained that in the body of Christ our sorrows are halved and our joys are doubled. I believe that is what the body of Christ is meant to be, caring and loving even in the midst of hurt that is unspeakable.
CL: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Sarah: Sometimes we strive to live a life of comfort and ease without pain. However, I am reminded that if pain is not in our life at all, we really aren’t living. We live in a fallen world, and to experience no pain is really not possible. It is through our pain that God can pour indescribable joy into us, and a hope unlike any other. Still, God leaves the choice to us, will we let trials create distance between us and our relationship with Him, or will we cling to Him, allowing Him to transform us and make us more like Him? Somehow through the pain of losing a child, God has brought an even greater understanding of who He is and through this heartache; I have learned even more clearly how good He is. How awesome that we serve a God who is not only faithful, but brings hope in the midst of despair, joy for sorrow and complete restoration to our hurting hearts.
If something in Sarah’s story connected with you, we would love to hear about it. Are you struggling with a loss right now? Let us know so we can be there with you.
As always, may your heart be glad!