Walking Past the Trial
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When you’re faced with a life-threatening illness, how does it affect your walk with God? Sarah Shreve Lindsey talkz about a number of health concerns that challenged her faith in God.
Walking Past the Trial
Michelle: Sarah Schreve Lindsey, at 22, was ambitious and talented. The world was her oyster, until it all came to a screeching halt. Here’s Sarah.
Sarah: Before I was diagnosed, I was super-athletic. I was always going and doing stuff; so maybe my shoulder would hurt, and I wouldn’t think twice about it: “Oh, I lifted too heavy.” But now, if I wake up and I’m really tired one day, I’m like, “Oh, no; this is how it started last time.”
My worst fear is: “Am I going to have to have surgery again, that’s way more intense than it was last time?” If you haven’t had surgery before, you’re scared about the unknown; but if you have to have surgery again, you’re scared about the known.
Michelle: God took Sarah Schreve Lindsey on a unique path that included pain/lots of pain—and required a lot of patience—on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. Last week, we talked about worry and anxiety, especially the kind that you parents get when you’re trying to raise your child to face the world, whether it be in kindergarten or in high school. We have that program on our website, FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
In that program, we heard from Jeff and Debbie Schreve about the real root of worry: well, that’s not trusting God. Jeff told us that once we understand that everything in our life belongs to God—you know, your spouse, your kids, your job, your 401K—everything! God’s the one who lets us enjoy those things, and it’s His responsibility to take care of them; not ours. That’s a great reminder, but how many times do we really live that out?—truly live that out?
Well, a couple of years after Jeff and Debbie’s conversation with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine, they came face to face with the challenge of living out this idea of really trusting God. Their youngest daughter, Sarah, developed a life-threatening condition in her brain called Arnold Chiari. Left untreated, it could have killed her. Suddenly, the whole family—Jeff, Debbie, and Sarah—were facing the unthinkable.
[Previous FamilyLife Today® Broadcast]
Jeff: It was a day after Christmas that everything changed in our household. My daughter woke up, and she knew something was different; she knew something was not right within her. It set us on a course of rock bottom.
Sarah: Like he said, I went to bed, Christmas night, feeling fine. I woke up the next morning; and instantly knew something was wrong. I remember I went out to lunch with my family, and I told them: “Something is wrong. I feel weird.” My right hand started trembling, so we went to the ER.
I was the most concerned. My family—and other people, too—thought it was just an abnormal reaction to medications that I was taking. I remember, I kept telling them, “No, like something is seriously, seriously wrong with me.” I remember one day so clearly; my friend was staying with me—Allie. I told her I was going to go to the bathroom. She came in my room, and I was just sobbing on the floor; because I was like: “Allie, something is seriously wrong with me. I feel like people don’t believe me. I wouldn’t make this up, but something is very wrong.”
Michelle: We’re now four years out.
Sarah: Wow! [Laughter]
Michelle: Listening to that probably brought memories back.
Michelle: What are you feeling right now?
Sarah: The further out you get from something, you forget how scared you were in the process. You forget how, every step of the way, you didn’t know what was going to follow; you didn’t have that security. Just listening to that, and hearing what all I said, I can just hear the fear in my voice; you can hear.
Sarah: I just didn’t know what I was going to do; I didn’t know what it looked like. You can still trust God that your future is going to be great, but that doesn’t mean you’re not scared for what that means exactly.
Sarah: I had to learn that it’s okay to be scared. You can still follow what God tells you to, but you can still be scared. That’s a normal reaction—to be scared of that.
Michelle: What did you do with those feelings of being scared?
Sarah: I had to learn to voice them, you know? I grew up in a really Christian home, and I’m super thankful for that; but I remember thinking: “Well, you know, I’m a Christian. I shouldn’t be scared. I should just know to trust God. This should come, second nature to me.”
I realized that, in order to have a good relationship with somebody, you have to communicate what you’re feeling. I had to learn—whatever I was feeling, I would tell God—like: “Hey, I’m really scared today. I know I talked to You about this two minutes ago, and I’m having another freak out.”
Sarah: I just had to constantly talk to Him; because the more you talk to Him, it helps avert your eyes to what’s true, and what’s important, and what’s valid; because, I know, at least, with me, I’ll have two percent of truth in a worry; and my mind will just go down the rabbit holes.
Michelle: Oh, yes! There’s: “What if this?” and “…then this?” and “…then this?”
And then you start thinking of worst-case scenarios. I realized the more that I voiced, "Hey, I’m scared,” that I wouldn’t allow myself to get super far down a rabbit hole; because immediately, when I would voice it, God would say, “It’s okay; it’s okay.” I would kind of be brought back to: “What I’m fearful of right now is not what’s true. It’s not what’s in front of me; I’m scared of six months from now, and a year from now,” which are normal concerns; but that doesn’t need to overwhelm your day by day.
Michelle: So right after surgery, did you have to go through—I’m thinking of physical therapy—or anything like that?
Sarah: I should have. I was actually a really bad patient, probably because I’m in healthcare. I was like: “Oh, I know what I’m doing! I’ll just do whatever.” [Laughter] I went to physical therapy a couple of times; but it was more so just, “Hey, move your neck from side to side.” I remember telling my parents, “I’m not going to go back for them to tell me to move it; I can do it myself.”
I had to learn to pace myself. That was probably the hardest part; because I would feel okay—and then I would do something: I would move my neck too quickly, or I would stand up to quickly—you would feel like, “I’m probably going to pay for this for the next 24 hours.” So I would just be really sluggish, and I would get nauseous. I had to have a lot of calming moments, where I would realize, “Hey, I can’t do that.”
Sarah: And a lot of it was my mom, being like: “Sarah, you can’t do that. [Laughter] You need to sit down. You need to stop being like this.” So, kudos to Debbie Schreve on that, for bringing me back in. [Laughter]
Michelle: So what does life look like for you now?
Sarah: It’s crazy; life now: I graduated from PA [Physician’s Assistant] school.
Michelle: So you got into PA school.
Sarah: I got in! I got in. That was an adventure, in and of itself; but I got in. I’m married to my best friend, which I would not have met him had I not gotten into this PA school at this time; I would have never met my husband. I have my dream job; I’m working in interventional radiology, which utilizes ultrasound, which is what I did prior to getting into PA school.
I’m healthy; I’m active. I get to work out and do what I love. I just have to be mindful of not overdoing things; but other than that—
Michelle: In the last four years, have there been any times, where you have sat there and said, “I’ve got this weird muscle twitch”?—
Sarah: Oh, yes.
Michelle: —or “I have some sort of weird pain going on. Is it all going to come back to me?”
Michelle: I mean, have you felt that way?
Sarah: Yes, so my mom verbalized it to me best—she said, “Once your body betrays you once, you freak out about any little issue.” Because before I was diagnosed, I was super-athletic. I was always going and doing stuff; so maybe my shoulder would hurt, and I wouldn’t think twice about it: “Oh, I lifted too heavy.” But now, if I wake up and I’m really tired one day, I’m like: “Oh, no; this is how it started last time.”
My worst fear is, “Am I going to have to have surgery again, that’s way more intense than it was last time?” If you haven’t had surgery before, you’re scared about the unknown; but if you have to have surgery again, you’re scared about the known.
Michelle: You know it!
Sarah: The surgery itself doesn’t scare me; but going back to when I had those two stroke-like episodes, that was just a horrible, horrible time. There are so many times, where I will tell my husband, “Hey, I think I’m having—like I think something’s going on.”
What’s sad is—a lot of my same symptoms also mirror when I have anxiety. It’s like: “Do I have anxiety because I have anxiety?” or “Do I have anxiety because I actually have a symptom?” and you know, go down the rabbit hole again. A lot of times, I just have to bring myself back to: “Okay, we’re just going to relax for a couple of minutes. If it goes away, it’s not anything serious. If it kind of remains, we’re going to get it checked.”
I had to go through, probably, more check-ups than the average person, just because I needed that reassurance from an MRI scan that said: “Hey, you’re okay. Your stuff looks fine. Your flow in your cerebrospinal fluid is fine. You’re okay. We don’t know what’s causing this; it might just be stress” —which is like, “Okay, I’m glad I could pay a thousand dollars for someone to tell me I’m stressed out!” [Laughter] But it’s worth it in the long run.
Michelle: There’s comfort in that—knowing what it is.
Sarah: Yes, yes.
Michelle: Now, have you struggled in your relationship with God, at all, during these last four years?
Sarah: Not necessarily in the last four years. I learned a lot/I learned a lot through recovery; because my diagnosis happened so, so fast. I mean, I had my first symptom, and then I had surgery within a month; so there wasn’t a whole lot of time to process.
Sarah: I did a lot of my processing, post-surgery. I would say those three months of recovery was when I had a harder time with my relationship with God; because I was just like: “What are we doing? I don’t understand the plan.” I don’t understand the plan, because I have a tendency to think, “This is how Sarah’s life should work out.” I think that if I verbalize it enough, God will be like: “Yes, okay! That works,”—like He’s just in the passenger seat, saying, “Yes, we can go here; that’s fine.” I try to will it into existence; and then with my diagnosis and surgery, I was just told a hard, “No,” on everything that I had really, really worked towards—was just: “No, no.”
At that time, I didn’t know if it was a “No,” forever or a “Not right now. In the future, but not right now.” I had no idea how to distinguish that. It took me a while to learn, “This might not be a ‘No’; it might just be a ‘Not now,’ and I need to be okay with that.” Because there are so many times that I remember I would tell myself: “I need answers! I need answers!”
Sarah: And then I would reflect and be like, “I don’t need them; I want them; because if I needed it, God would give me that, because He provides us with our needs.” You know, He meets us where we are.
Sarah: So if I prayed about something, and didn’t get an answer, I had to really learn: “It’s because He doesn’t want me to know the answer yet,” or “There’s a reason.” I had to learn that, how I respond in anger, is primarily because I’m scared. When I was like: “I’m mad at God; I’m mad at God!”—it was more so like—“Hey, God, I don’t understand what You’re doing, and that frustrates me. It makes me scared, because I realize that I’m not in control of anything.” That part was really, really hard for me.
Michelle: Yes, it sounds like you really had to find out who Sarah is through this.
Sarah: Oh, yes; because in the process, I lost everything that I found my value in as me/as Sarah. I was always working out or doing something athletic; I could no longer do that. I was always out with friends, and hanging out with friends, and doing things; and I couldn’t leave the house. I found, you know, my security in my job, both financially and emotionally. I felt very rewarded for doing a good job, and I could no longer work. And then, intellectually, I got rejected from PA school; so I didn’t know what the future was.
Everything that I found my security in was taken away from me. I remember thinking: “That’s a mean God that would do that; that’s a mean”—like—“Who would ever want to follow and dedicate their life to someone that would take everything away from them?”
Then, I really realized, in the past year, after graduating PA school and kind of looking back, retrospectively, and saying: “Oh, wow! Look how much God has provided for me! I’m married; I graduated PA school,”—all this stuff.
I realize that my inner Sarah is very loud. You know, when I want something, I’m screaming at the top of my lungs. I remember constantly thinking, “I can’t hear God’s voice.” It’s because I couldn’t hear it over Sarah screaming, because God’s voice to me is a whisper; He purposely whispers so that you take the time to hear what He’s saying.
Every time He took something away from me, He was making it more quiet for me to be able to hear Him. I finally realized, once everything was quiet, that was the closest I had ever felt to God; because it was just me and Him there. There weren’t distractions; there was fear, but there wasn’t any life distractions.
As much as I would never want to [go through recovery] again, that time where I felt close to Him was something that I’ll treasure for the rest of my life; you know?
Michelle: How would you describe God’s character now?
Sarah: He if faithful. He is faithful, and He is patient; because you know, you go through a time that’s hard, and you are like, “God is faithful.” Then you go through a different situation, and it’s almost like you have amnesia. [Laughter] You forget, all over again, how God is faithful.
Sarah: So He’s just very patient, because it doesn’t matter how long it takes me to get back on track with my thinking. Or you know, how I pray and have a tendency to want to control things; so learning to release control—He’s just such a patient God. And He’s so faithful; He’s so faithful. And His plan is just sovereign. It is exactly—I don’t even want to say it’s exactly what I thought—because it’s way more abundant than what I could have ever imagined. But in order to get to abundance, you have to go through a hard period; you don’t just get it; you know what I mean?
Sarah: Every time I thought, “Oh, this is a hard ‘No,” it was really just a pause. It was like, “Hey, we’re catapulting you to something greater; but right now, you need to be still; because we need to get ready for that.” I just took it as: “We’re no longer moving. What’s going on? Where are we going? What are we doing?”
Yes, I learned that He is so faithful and that He loves me; He wants the best for me. He doesn’t do anything out of spite or “Well, Sarah thought her life was going to end up like this. Let’s freak her out; let’s do this”; you know? [Laughter]
Michelle: I’ve had those thoughts too!
Sarah: Yes! And people, who are like, “I’ve never thought that,”—it’s like you have; you just haven’t voiced it—because that is a normal human thought, to be like: “What are we doing? Why is life going like this?” And if you’ve never had that thought, I’m very jealous; because I think those things all the time! [Laughter]
I just learned to relax in the fact that God has it. That doesn’t mean that my need for control, or my desire for control, is going to magically disappear just because I know that God is sovereign; but it has made me relax. When I notice that I’m getting kind of controllish—
Sarah: —I can be like: “Oh, hey! He has it. I need to just simmer. I need to simmer, and just sit and relax.”
Michelle: Sit, and relax, and realize that God’s got it. Those are easy words to throw out; those are hard words to live—very hard words to live.
Hey, we need to take a quick break; but on the other side of that break, if you are someone who’s walking through a hard journey right now, Sarah has some advice for you; so stick around. I’ll be back in two minutes.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. This week, I am talking with Sarah Schreve Lindsey.
You know, Sarah, I was telling a friend this morning, “Okay, I’m so anxiety-driven over this issue that I’m walking through.” She sent me back the verse, “Whatever is lovely, whatever is noble, whatever is right—
Michelle: —“think on these things.” She was like: “Get your eyes off yourself! Be thinking about God.”
Sarah: But it’s hard, because making yourself refocus is a task. I mean, you have to force yourself to refocus; it’s not going to just magically happen.
Sarah: So I’m totally with you.
Michelle: I know that during all of that time—I know that during the time just before the surgery and afterwards—there were so many losses in your life.
Michelle: You kept saying: “God, why?” “God, why?—why is this all happening now?” I know that there’s somebody, who’s listening right now, who is probably asking those same questions. How would you encourage them?
Sarah: I would say, if you consistently are asking, “Why?” and you’re not receiving an answer, it’s because you’re not going to get an answer right now. You just have to be persistent in just searching for the answer/searching for the answer through Christ.
At least, for me, I had applied to PA schools two years in a row before I had my surgery. I got rejected that first year; and I was like: “Okay, minor setback. We’ll reexamine this and figure out what’s going on.” I applied again, and had a pretty big pool; and still wasn’t getting accepted. I was on waiting lists, and I got diagnosed. I had a really hard time figuring out, “Okay, do I apply a third time?”
I can logically say, “Hey, if I had gotten in those two times before, I would have had to quit; because I would no longer be able to continue the program”; because it’s a 20-month program. That would have been smack dab in the middle of [everything]. My dad kept telling me, “Oh, yes, that was God’s favor on you, that you didn’t get in,” which is true.
But you have to put your pride on the line to apply a third time; you know? Because you’re like, “If I don’t get in this time, it’s not because of Chiari [her physical condition]. This is God telling me, ‘No’; this is God telling me, ‘No.’” I had to really, really pray about, “Hey, do I still feel like God is really calling me to go to PA school, and to try this?” I was like: “You know what? I’ll do it. I really feel like God wants me to do this.” I applied again, and the first two schools that interviewed me accepted me right on the spot. I was able to turn down all the other interviews for all the other schools.
The weird part is—the application for those three years—I submitted the exact same application. There wasn’t anything that was different about me, other than I could say, “Hey, I’ve actually been a patient before, so I’ve learned a whole lot of empathy and sympathy toward people going through stuff, because I was a patient.” I don’t know if that helped get me in or not; but it was still like it just wasn’t the time for me to get in, and I didn’t understand why.
So to the people, who are saying, “What do I do in the ‘Why?’ phase?” You have to trust the fact that you’re not going to stay there. You’re going to be catapulted some place different, but just because you’re worrying isn’t going to speed the process up. You just kind of have to embrace the “Why?”—which is very easy to say/very hard to do.
Sarah: But coming from someone, who’s been there, it’s so hard; but it is so worth it. It is so worth it!
Michelle: How did your parents come alongside of you during all of this?—all of these last four years? How did they do that?
Sarah: Yes, so in the diagnosis part, my dad is way more of a worrier than my mom is. [Laughter] Or maybe my dad’s just more vocal. My mom was—I think she put on a brave face; because she could tell that my dad was stressed, watching me go through that.
Michelle: He is helpless.
Sarah: I was helpless, and he was helpless. It was just like, “This is awful.” But I really grew to appreciate and respect my parents way more just because, in that process, they were so reassuring to me about: “You need to pray about it. God has a plan for you.” It wasn’t easy for them to say that, because they were scared too.
Sarah: You know, it’s like they seem to have it all together; but it’s because they openly admit to God that they don’t have it all together. He gives them so much strength and wisdom. I always thought, “Oh, my parents just have this, because they’re strong.” But it’s because they’re so reliant on God for every aspect of their life. It really showed me, “That’s exactly how I want to be.”
I want—if my kids ever have to go through this—I want to be as strong of a Christian and as strong in my faith as my parents are, and how they were, when I was going through the depths of despair with recovery and everything.
Michelle: Wow. It sounds like you learned a lot from your parents by watching them—
Michelle: —watch you face this hard thing.
Does the future look different to you now?
Sarah: Surprisingly, no—I mean, physically, no—I’m healthy; I’m back to where I was; but emotionally and spiritually, it forever changed my life.
Sarah: I don’t want to say I’m thankful for it—
Sarah: —because I wouldn’t want to have to go back through all of that again—but I learned so much. I’m so glad that it happened before I met my husband—because I don’t think I’m a completely different person; but it definitely changed how I view things, and how I process things, and how I react to things right away—just being able to say, “Hey, if God got me through this, when I was almost incapacitated, He can get me through whatever other hardships there are.”
Michelle: God will get us through. You know, Sarah was such a joy to talk to. She was an encourager and really left me with this reminder that God uses all the hard things in our lives to shape and refine our journey. You know, these stories that we get to share with others—I was so thankful that Sarah was willing to share that story with me and with you.
If you’re walking through a hard time, I really want to encourage you to listen to our program again today, and also listen to last week’s program. Maybe listen to them together to hear the perspective of Sarah’s parents, Jeff and Debbie Schreve, and then to hear how the story really played out in their lives. You know, it’s a great reminder that: “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways,” and “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so His ways are higher than our ways.” We need to keep that in perspective as we walk through hard things.
Hey, are you a hugger?—you know, someone who just loves to hug anyone? Or do you tend to be the person who needs that two-foot bubble?—you know, that no one can penetrate/no one can get through?—because, well, you just don’t want to be touched. Lore Wilbert has just written a book on the ministry of touch. She and I are going to be talking about what’s good and what’s bad about touch. I guarantee that your perspective of touch—well, it’s going to be challenged. I hope you can join us for that next week.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producers, Marques Holt and Bruce Goff. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator; and they’re all huggers!
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