I love a good story! Stories captivate our imaginations, impact our lives, and have the ability to shift whole cultures. Swapping stories with a sweet friend over a cuppa hot something is just the best. It's a joy to welcome Sarah Damaska to Story Swap today! (Every Saturday I post a Story Swap feature on my Instagram).
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself. What does a typical day look like for you?
Hi, I'm Sarah. I'm married to Peter and we live in Eastern Michigan ("The Thumb" if you're familiar with Michigan geography) with our three kids: William (18, graduating in June!), Kate (16, just started driving), and Eliza (12, vacillating between child and teen every 1-2 hours). Our daughter, Annie, would be 14, but only lived for six months and died of a massive brain tumour. My husband is Lead Pastor at our church and I also work there part time as the Director of Spiritual Formation (which is a fancy way of saying I help adults grow in their faith). We are all up early in our house and the kids leave for school by 7:00. I drink my coffee black while they get ready. After they leave, Peter walks the dog and I do a Revelation Wellness workout video and then we get ready for the day. It's all incredibly exciting. My days are never 'typical' - I write, meet with people, teach Bible studies, work on special projects, etc. When the kids come home from school at 2:30, I put on my mom hat: talking with the kids, dinner, laundry, cleaning... all the things! We love to eat dinner as a family, but practices and games usually mean that we're all on different schedules. Typically everyone is home by 9:00, which is when the kids end up eating what I jokingly refer to as "2nd dinner" (In case you're wondering, I only make 1st dinner. All prep/clean up for 2nd dinner is strictly up to the consumer.)
2. When and how did you meet Jesus?
Someday I am going to ask Jesus when I first asked Him into my heart - because I suspect it was before I even have a real memory of it! Ever since I can remember, I've just always loved Him with my whole heart. But I did struggle to believe I had done it the right way... so I asked Him in over and over again. When I was in fourth grade, I'd finally had enough of my own wishy-washiness and I asked him once and for all in my heart at church camp.
3. What are you passionate about?
I'm passionate about helping people understand the Bible and how they can learn and study it for themselves. My very favourite thing is when someone comes to me with deep questions - when the answers they've halfheartedly believed for their lives aren't working anymore. I love to watch the process of God unfolding something new and exciting in their souls. I'm passionate about my family, especially now as my kids get older and our family stage changes again. I'm excited to watch what God does in their lives as they take the faith we've taught them and they really make it their own. Though it may seem strange, I'm passionate about grief and loss. So much of my adult life has been shaped by grief and the way Jesus has gently led me. All along the way I've learned that I don't have to put down my sorrow in order to pick up joy and hope... but, in fact, they can exist together. The loss of my daughter fourteen years ago and the loss of my dad two years ago has significantly changed me by putting me on a path I never imagined for my life. And while the grief has been a heavy load, I've also stood in amazement of the way God has redeemed the sorrow in my life.
4. How are you making the most of your current season of life?
I'm smack dab in the middle of a season that I don't have the freedom to share about just yet. It's been a season of wrestling and stretching. But God has been so faithful. One particular night, after a really difficult week, I went to bed feeling such spiritual heaviness - both physical and spiritual. And I am not exaggerating when I say that God woke me up at midnight and lifted the blanket of heaviness off of me. I have never felt such His presence in such a sweet way. And though the circumstance didn't necessarily change as a result, I've been overcome with a sense of His peace since that day. It's been incredibly beautiful.
5. How do you prioritize the Word of God?
Let me be really honest: This question has served to be the conviction I needed in this season. Even though I help people learn how to grow in their faith, it's still hard to prioritize it myself. Isn't that crazy!? But I've sat with this question for several days, because I have not prioritized the Word of God lately. I've nodded along with good, Christian Instagram posts and underlined sentences in great books. I've listened to lots of Worship music and spent significant and meaningful time in prayer. But I've had a hard time actually digging into my Bible. Why? Because "The Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). And honestly, sometimes I don't want it to be alive and active. I foolishly think I just want to live my own life. The Devil subtly tricks me into thinking that following good people on Instagram and reading reputable books is enough, that cherry-picking verses is acceptable. But there is no substitution to digging into my Bible and wrestling with the Truth. The Holy Spirit used this question and a few other people in my life to show me that I've been indulging in things I've thought would fill me up, but they've only left me starving. When I find myself drifting like this, I open up my red composition notebook and I simply copy Scripture word for word. Usually a Psalm, but sometimes another chunk of verses that God has been showing me. I don't add any commentary, except maybe underlining a word or phrase. It grounds me and takes me back to the simplicity of Scripture that penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit.
6. What has God been speaking to you about and how has He moved in your life recently?
You know, I don't often feel like God is moving. Sometimes I wonder if He's really at work in my life. But when I stop and intentionally look back, I am in awe of the ways He has been present and active. I used to feel a bit guilty about asking Him to move in my life. After all, there are much bigger things going on in the world-- earthquakes and child trafficking and world hunger to name a few. Why should I take up God's time with my little things? But God reminded me that He doesn't get tired and weary. When I ask Him to be present with me, that doesn't mean He has to say no to being with someone else. He is in all and through all and none of it depletes His goodness and power. It has been such a life changing truth to me. I can come boldly to Him, along with everyone else, believing He is actively involved in my life each and every day.
7. What is the biggest thing you've had to trust God with?
The story of my daughter, Annie, is something I have to continually surrender to God. For several weeks before she died, we were frantically trying to figure out what was making her sick. Doctors had no answers and reprimanded me for being an overprotective mom. A 5 day stay in a reputable hospital was a dead end. But I knew something wasn't adding up. We went to another hospital and within minutes they had located a massive tumor in her little brain. She died three days later. I've had to surrender our story to Jesus over and over, because so many of the questions I wrestle with only led to bigger questions. So many times I've struggled to forgive, so many times I've tried to rewrite the story so the ending comes out differently. But in the end, I've had to trust God. My view is so very finite. As parents, our children shape who we are and how we see the world. I assumed when Annie died that would no longer be true for her. But God has used - is still using - her little, sweet, short life to shape me in ways I could not have imagined. Being her Mama has been one of the biggest gifts I ever could have received. She has drawn me to Jesus, she has taught me how to hold sorrow and joy together. Against all odds, the brokenness of our story has been beautiful.
8. What story is God writing with your life?
I would love to know! The story of Rahab is one of my favourites because the Hebrew word for the red rope she hung from her brothel is 'Tikvah'. It's also the word for hope. And I love that so much because there's a thread of hope running through the whole story of Rahab, even generations later when she became woven into the very family tree of Jesus. So when I think of the story God is writing with my life, I think of that red rope and the thread of hope running throughout my own story - and the story of the generations before and after me. God is at work in so many ways that are both seen and unseen. I just feel so honoured to be part of it.
Sarah Damaska lives in rural Michigan with her pastor-husband and three school aged kids. Shaped by the death of her daughter Annie, she writes about God’s invitation to live in the intersection of hope & sorrow. She is passionate about spiritual formation and helping women discover a love for Jesus and His Word. You can find her at sarahdamaska.com, Instagram and Facebook.