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Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

Learning to Trust God Through My Disability (Part 1 of 2)

Learning to Trust God Through My Disability (Part 1 of 2)

Sarah Kovac shares her inspirational testimony of overcoming the challenges she's faced in having been born with a rare congenital birth defect which has essentially rendered her arms and hands unusable. (Part 1 of 2)
Original Air Date: June 2, 2016

Opening:

John Fuller: Today on “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly, you’ll hear from a young mom who has struggled her whole life every day, doing normal tasks that you and I take for granted, but in those struggles and in her weakness, she’s learned to trust God for the results

Teaser:

Mrs. Sarah Kovac: I realized that my pain and struggle might actually be a huge part of my purpose. Instead of trying to run away from it, I began to embrace it and I’m not saying that I like being like this. If God came to me and said, “Would you like to have normally functioning arms?” I would in a heartbeat say yes. At the same time, I wouldn’t go back and change anything that’s happened to me

End of Teaser

John: Well, welcome to our program today. I’m John Fuller.

Body:

Jim Daly: John, I am I think, fascinated is the right word when we look at the paradox of vulnerability in this life. I mean, we want, as human beings to kind of strive to be the best. We want to be in control. Yet, at the same time, it seems like the Lord takes us in precarious directions to teach us things. He kinda empties us of ourselves. He squashes stuff out of us that’s unhealthy.

John: Hm.

Jim: And so often, I’m thinking about that that it is human nature to want to be comfortable, to want to be at the top of your game. Yet, the Lord seems to want to teach us what imperfection is all about and the fact that He wants us, in some ways, to be comfortable with that, to be secure in those situations.

Our guest today struggled with many of these feelings and for good reasons. She was born with a disability that at first glance would make you think that normal life for her, especially as a mom of young kids, would be impossible. But Sarah Kovac has been the kind of person to let impossible challenges not stand in her way and Sarah, I am looking forward to hearing your story. Welcome to “Focus on the Family.”

Sarah: Well, thank you so much for having me.

Jim: Let’s start there. When you think of life and how God teaches us things, here you are. You’re born with well, I’ll let you describe it. What happened in the birth process and the genetic issue that you face?

Sarah: Well, I have something called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenital [AMC]. I can see why you wanted me to say it.

Jim: (Laughing) You’re correct.

Sarah: But it can be cause for a variety of different reasons. For some people it’s a genetic thing. For some people, the baby just didn’t move around as much as it should in the womb. It’s not a genetic thing for me. So, the doctors don’t really know why I have it. It just is kind of a lottery, you know. I got the losing lottery ticket there, but so, it just means that there are some joints in the body that are sort of stuck in place and muscles are underdeveloped. And for me, those muscles and bones are from the base of my neck out to my fingertips. So, I can’t move my arms much.

Jim: And the rest of your body is in normal working order—your legs and–

Sarah: Right.

Jim: –but just your arms.

Sarah: Yes.

Jim: So, they’re basically down to your side all the time.

Sarah: Yes.

Jim: Huh. So when you look at that and in the context of what I just said about how we learn lessons in this life, talk about that spiritual journey. When you were raised, were you raised in a Christian home? Or what kind of mom and dad did you have? And how did they speak to you about your situation?

Sarah: Well my parents became Christians when I was about 2, so that’s all I remember was being raised in a Christian home and being in church and I went to a Christian school. My disability isn’t something that we ever really talked much about because I just felt normal. You know, I felt like there wasn’t much to say.

And I know some people might need to talk about that sort of thing more than others, but to me when I would go out in public, people would have questions for me and people would want to talk to me and it was kinda nice to be in my home and not be questioned and not, you know, if I brought something up, then we could talk about it, but my parents just kind of let me be, which I appreciated.

Jim: No, I mean, it’s a strong witness really for our faith, the way that they encouraged you. When you think about that need to prove yourself, I mean, I can only imagine how that had to be something in your heart, ’cause you may have always felt that you were coming up short or not quite the same as the other kids. How did you manage that comparison issue when you have, you know, a handicap that’s right there? I mean, everybody can see you can’t raise your arms. You can’t use your arms.

Sarah: Uh-hm. I don’t really know. Sometimes I don’t manage it well and sometimes I do compare myself to other people and sometimes I feel sorry for myself. But a lot of the time, I just don’t have time for that. You know, I’ve got too much going on in my life and I’ve got too many things to do and too many things that I want to experience, that you know, there’s just not a lot of time for … for self-pity and comparison.

Jim: No, that’s important though. Think of that in this culture, how often people that are completely healthy on the outside are doing that comparison all the time, you know, what the house is, what the car is, what kind of lifestyle we have. And here, you even talk about that in your book, how perhaps for someone like yourself, it’s out there. Everybody can see what your shortcoming is.

Sarah: Uh-hm.

Jim: So, you can deal with it a little more straightforwardly. Talk about that comparison, what you see with people that on the outside are physically healthy, but maybe aren’t emotionally healthy.

Sarah: Yeah, I think why people are intrigued by my story and can connect with me is because I think what’s going on, on the outside for me is something that we’re all dealing with. We all know what it’s like to feel inadequate and we all know what it’s like to feel like we can be perfect for our children or our spouse. And that’s my story, but it’s like a parable for what we’re all feeling inside and–

Jim: Huh.

Sarah: –so, it’s a blessing in that way that I can walk into the store and write a check with my feet and some person’ll say, “I’m so inspired. I was having a hard day, but now I really feel like I can … I can tackle it and I can do [it.]”

Jim: Now how does that make you feel? I mean, you’re overcoming these things and they’re saying, “Wow, if you’ve got it so rough—

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: –I can be better. I can be thinking, you know, better about my situation.” Does that make you feel good? Or does it make you feel bad?

Sarah: There are mixed emotions and it definitely depends on my mood that day.

Jim: Yeah.

Sarah: Because sometimes I can read that as, well, gosh, I’m sure glad I’m not you.

Jim: Right.

Sarah: You know, it could be so much worse. I could be like you. (Laughing)

Jim: Right.

Sarah: But I try to be generous with my thoughts about those people and give them grace, because you know, we all find ourselves in situations where we don’t know what to say or we have a feeling and we don’t know how to express it. And they are trying to express something positive to me and don’t really know what it’s like to be in my shoes. So, I choose to be glad that I can positively impact people without trying. And some days I just don’t go to Walmart, because (Laughing) I don’t really want to be approached.

Jim: Yeah, I’m sure people always watch you and have a comment or a glance or something like that. In fact, you were on CNN. I think they featured you and you do use your feet like hands. You were just here at the table. You opened a bottle of water, poured it into a cup and you’re drinking from the cup.

Sarah: Right.

Jim: And I mean, that’s how you survive. That’s how you function. You’re also a mom of young kids, 6 and 2!

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: And that will inspire a lot of moms in the right way, I think, who are saying, wow! I’ve got all four limbs working and this woman can do this with two. Talk about how you change diapers and how you function day to day.

Sarah: Well, I mean, I do the changing of diapers and the other things. Those aren’t really the big struggles for me, because I have been using my feet like this since I was 2.

Jim: Wow.

Sarah: So before you were a parent, if somebody said, “Well, how are you gonna change a diaper?” it would be kinda hard for you to put that into words and explain it, you know, because that’s just how I do things, is with my feet.

But the biggest challenge for me is, children of a certain age, you can physically wrangle them into your will, you know (Laughing), if you want ’em in the car seat, you just stick ’em in there and they’re fightin’ and kickin’ and you buckle ’em in and they’re not goin’ anywhere.

I can’t do that. I have to have my children in a place where they’re being cooperative and sometimes for me that means waiting, waiting it out until they’re ready to be calm and cooperative. Or sometimes for me, that means asking somebody for help, which I don’t really like to do either one of those things, but that’s where I find myself and I think it makes me a better mom.

Jim: Well, I was gonna say, in that context, I mean, the fact that you have to wait, it means patience. That’s usually an attribute that’s a good thing for a parent, rather than reacting with anger or you know, reacting in a[n] unproductive way. What about your kids in terms of their personality development? Are they cuttin’ you some slack? Are they givin’ it to you pretty strong? Or how are they developing?

Sarah: Well, I remember when I was pregnant with our first child and he’s now 6, there were people that were concerned for us and we’re not sure, you know, about whether or not I would physically be able to handle this without help. And I went to a friend of mine who used to be a pastor at our church and I talked with her. And she said, “Well, we’ll just pray that, you know, God’ll give you a child that has the personality that you need.

And I would pray for that and he is the most nurturing and cooperative. I mean, at 18 months, he was buckling his car seat for me. He would climb in and buckle it and I would just tighten it up. And there was one time when my husband went on a ski trip for a week and this was the first time I was alone with no help for that length of time.

Jim: And how old were the kids at that point?

Sarah: I know that Ethan was probably about, I want to say he was 8-months old, maybe a little bit older than that.

Jim: And No. 2 had not arrived yet.

Sarah: Oh, no. She’s only 2—

Jim: Okay.

Sarah: –now, so they’re—

Jim: Okay.

Sarah: –four years apart.So, I realized I was gonna have to give him a bath, my son, and that was something that was usually delegated to dad because you know, squirming, wet babies are just not easy for me to deal with.

But he had gotten into somethin’, was just totally disgusting and I thought, I cannot wait a week (Laughter) to give this kid a bath. So, I did and when it was time for him to get out, he stood up and he like locked his arms under in place, so that I could hook my hands under his arms and pull him out. And he wasn’t old enough to know to do that. You know, he—

Jim: Wow.

Sarah: –wasn’t. I sat there and cried because it was a miracle to me, you know, that my baby would be able to—

Jim: Be aware.

Sarah: –connect to me, connect with me in that way and give me what I needed. And he’s all the time, you know, if I’m buttoning something that’s taking me a while and he says, “Do you want me to button that for you?” Or he’s gettin’ his sister a sandwich or you know, things like that.

Jim: So, you see that sensitivity in him and I’m sure your daughter, as well, right?

Sarah: She might get there. (Laughter)

Jim: She’s only 2.

Sarah: She’s only 2. She’s too busy climbin’ things.

Jim: You know, Sarah, so often in our culture, people with disabilities are often devalued. That’s the way we would see it, especially from a Christian perspective. That’s one of the reasons that we want to promote the sanctity of human life here at Focus. It’s not just about the preborn child, but it’s about everyone who is made in the image of God.

Did you ever struggle with that concept? Or how do you process that, given what you have to live with? And help us understand how to behave around someone who’s got some limitations?

Sarah: And I wish there were an easy answer to that, because it turns out every person with a disability is an individual and every individual is different. Unless I’m putting myself in the situation to talk to you about my disability like this or I’ve gone to speak somewhere, I don’t really like being approached. I’m an introvert, you know. I’d rather just be left to do my thing. But then there are other people who, you know, really welcome the questions and take that as an opportunity to teach people, which I try to do, but it does make me uncomfortable, just it’s not my personality.

But it’s one of those things where people with disabilities often, we’re some sort of object to people. We’re either an object of pity or an object of inspiration. And you know, it’s kind of flattering to be an object of inspiration, but you don’t feel like people are really seeing you as a person.

Jim: Huh.

Sarah: You know, we’re like the next inspirational quote on the wall.

So, it can be disheartening, because people make some serious judgments by looking at you when you have a disability, but I think it’s just kinda par for the course. You find people that are willing to look deeper than that and make you feel normal. And those are the people you hang out with the most.

Jim: How do you envision the way God sees you?

Sarah: I think He sees me as I am. I think if He saw me with no disability, then I wouldn’t be me. You know, this disability doesn’t define me, but it’s part of who I am and it’s part of what’s made me who I am. And I don’t believe it was His intention for me, but it’s who I am now. You know, it’s part of who I am and I think He can use everything for good. And so, I don’t want to be seen as Sarah, except her arms. You know, it’s part of who I am and that’s how I looked at myself for a long time, was you know, well, just look past that. Let’s just pretend like that’s not there. That’s doing myself a disservice, because it’s part of me.

Program Note:

John: Well, we’re talking today on “Focus on the Family” with Sarah Kovac and she’s written a book, In Capable Arms: Living a Life Embraced by Grace. And I so appreciate your insights, Sarah. We’ve got the book and we’ll be happy to send that to you when you contact us. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or find details about Sarah and that book at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.

End of Program Note

John: And Sarah, that opening clip we had, you had referenced something that I think is worth revisiting. You had said in that audio clip, “If I had a chance to have normally functioning arms, I would say yes, but I wouldn’t take back what I have to deal with here today.” Jim, as you were talking about the special-needs situation, I’m thinking about parents who are struggling, who are thinking, I don’t want this. Do you know about your parents, how they’ve processed your disability and if they had those kinds of struggles?

Sarah: I have heard my dad say that that day wasn’t all rosy, you know, the day that I came out and they found out that I had a disability. They weren’t ready to be parents at all, but you know, certainly not to a child with special needs.

And my grandmother told them, you know, that God gives special kids to special parents and I think that’s what they needed to hear. But again, on the other hand, I don’t agree with it, because I think God gives special kids to normal parents that are gonna struggle like everybody else. You know, if you see another parent that has a child with special needs, they’re not like a super hero and that’s not what’s enabling them to deal with this. They’re normal people, too, leaning on God and needing help in trusting Him.

And so, I know that it was hard for them, but God gave them an amazing measure of grace and wisdom for how little they knew about the situation. When I look back and see how they dealt with me and how they trained me and how they spoke to me, I’m just amazed because not every person with a disability gets to have that.

Jim: What were some of the examples of that? ‘Cause I think of your parents and they were, as I read the book, I mean, they were not on solid ground spiritually when you were born. They were havin’ their own issues.

Sarah: Sure.

Jim: But again, sounds like your grandmother really spoke into their life and they kind of wised up to the challenge in front of them and they began to do some really good things with you. Describe in specificity, if I can ask you that, because parents of you know, physically healthy kids could benefit from this.What did they say to you that gave you confidence, that gave you courage, that gave you a sense about yourself that you were okay, even though you had these limitations?

Sarah: They said yes.

Jim: Huh.

Sarah: When I wanted to go to Spain, they said yes. When I wanted to learn to ride a bike or roller blade, they said yes. And then they went into the house and probably cried and prayed (Laughter) and I mean, I know my mom, you know, she prayed a lot, you know, that God would send His angels to protect me.

When I was in kindergarten, I broke my arm four times. My arms don’t bend. They just break. So, the amount of strength that they had to watch me go through that over and over and then to say, “Okay, well, we can learn to ride a bike. We’ll take off your training wheels,” you know.

It communicated to me that I didn’t need to be any different than any other kid and I would come across things that I couldn’t do or didn’t want to, because it was too scary for me, but they let me discover those things instead of determining that for me.

Jim: Sarah, that is really powerful, because we have so many parents again, with kids who are capable, being that helicopter mom or dad, saying, “Don’t do that; that’s too dangerous.” I can think of 100 examples with my own children. And what you’re saying is, be careful you don’t overprotect, you don’t overguard them because it will actually harm them. Is that fair?

Sarah: I think it is and you know, our son just started kindergarten and they said a lot of incoming kids coming into kindergarten have motor skill issues because you know what? The first four years of my son’s life, he didn’t have a single Band-Aid, ’cause I was there. You know, ’cause I can remember what that cracking bone felt like and it made me feel very uncomfortable when he was running down the stairs or, you know, jumping off of the swing at the park.

So, with my daughter, I’m trying to do things differently and she has no motor skill issues at all. (Laughter) And she can climb a mountain if she wants, but you know, I think we’re shortchanging our kids when we don’t allow them to take some risks and get hurt sometimes, because when you get hurt, you learn that you can live through it.

Jim: That’s amazing. And the other thing that I caught regarding school is, you learned to play the trumpet with your feet. That’s incredible!

Sarah: Yeah, my dad was a music major when he graduated, but at the time when I was born, he was a music major and my mom was an art major. And my grandfather, he was like an electrician and worked just, you know, putting things together, engineer kind of stuff. So, they put their heads together and found a way to make a contraption where this thing would hold the trumpet up to my face and then there were pedals at my feet that I would push those. It would pull the valves down and it was pretty cool. (Laughter)

Jim: It’s really cool, ’cause in fact, you got a scholarship, if I—

Sarah: Uh-hm.

Jim: –remember correctly. That’s pretty cool. Mom and dad must have been happy about that.

Sarah: I’m sure they were. (Laughter) And they weren’t so happy when I decided not to go to class and I lost my scholarship. (Laughter)

Jim: Well, let’s talk about spiritually what was happening for you during those years, too. You grew up as you said, in a church, where people are praying for you, probably praying for your healing.

Sarah: Uh-hm.

Jim: But how did you as a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old, think about God and what kind of relationship did you have with Him?

Sarah: As far as what I believed about God at the time, is really not any different than I do now. I believe that my disability was not His doing, but I believed He can use it for beautiful things that would never have been part of my life had I not had a disability.

And I believed that He has my best interests at heart, you know. I believed He could come down and heal me is He wanted to, but I believed He has my best interests at heart and He has a plan for that, for every aspect of my being, even the flaws. I believe that He can use those, too. Especially at, you know, 14 and 16, didn’t like being any different than everybody else. That’s pretty typical for a 14- or 16-year-old, I think.

Jim: Well, that has to be tough, yeah. I mean, junior high and high school, those are tough years anyway–

Sarah: Right.

Jim: –but to, you know, have a difference with your classmates in terms of your physical ability, what was that like? Did the kids treat you differently? Did they treat you meanly?

Sarah: There wasn’t any out and out bullying. We were at a small school. There just really wasn’t much of that in my school, at this Christian school that I went to. But there was a lot of just feeling ostracized, which is about as far as it went. But it was sort of a perfect storm, because I was different anyway. It was junior high. I’m an introvert. I’ve never been one to reach out to people, because it makes me nervous. You know, I’d just rather have them come to me and I know that they’re not, you know, playing with me because they feel sorry for me, you know. I want to know that people actually want me.

But there was a time when I was at school and I felt so isolated and alone. And I was just looking out and it just struck me the contrast between what I was seeing and what I was feeling. It was this beautiful Midwestern spring day and the clouds were just these puffy, fluffy, beautiful white things in the sky and behind this blue [sky]. I don’t know. I just remember it being just this gorgeous day.

Jim: Huh.

Sarah: And I felt terrible. I just felt left out and I felt like nobody cared that I was even there. In fact, I felt like a burden that people would probably be happier if I wasn’t there because they had to help me with things. You know, they had to help me zip up my coat and they had to help me write on the chalkboard. And I thought, you know, they would probably be a lot happier if I wasn’t here.

And so, I stepped up onto the rail of the fire escape and just sort of leaned my thighs against the top of the rail and I thought, you know, I could relax like two muscles right now and fall off of here and everybody would be relieved of the burden that I am.

And you know, I’ve heard people say that suicide is the most selfish act. But I think it’s more like you come to a place where you just can’t see anything. Your pain gets so big that that’s all you can see. It’s so close and it’s so in your face that, that is all that you can see.

I wasn’t thinking about, you know, what Christmas would be like that year for my parents. I’m an only child, you know. I mean, it’d be devastating for anybody, but their house would be empty.

Jim: Yeah.

Sarah: I wasn’t thinking about, you know, the other students in my class or my teachers or how traumatized they would all be. I wasn’t thinking about that. I just felt like this hurts and I want to be done.

Jim: Well, right; you’re trying to find some kind of remedy to your pain.

Sarah: Right.

Jim: But I appreciate that vulnerability, because on the one hand, you’ve mentioned Romans 8:28 a couple of times, you know, that God can use all things, including your situation for His good and for His glory. And you’re on that side of the equation now, but I so appreciate the fact that you did go through a time where you felt, if I wasn’t here, it’d be easier, because that makes it real, rather than just being a super woman–I mean, really, those struggles that all of us have, that all of us think about our inadequacies, those things we cannot do.

We’re at the end of our time, but I want to come back tomorrow to hear how God lifted you up and took you from that fire escape. Interesting that it was a fire escape, huh?

Sarah: Uh-hm.

Jim: And how He pointed you in a solid direction. Can we come back to this next time?

Sarah: Sure, that would be great.

Jim: Let’s do it.

Closing:

John: Well, what a great conversation we’ve had with Sarah and I’m so looking forward to hearing more from you. Jim, I think there are probably some folks that are in dark painful places like Sarah was and they’re identifying with what she’s been sharing. Those circumstances may be different, but the feelings are the same. They’re wondering, is life worth living? I don’t know anybody would even notice if I were gone.

Jim: And what a desperate place that is and we want to say to you right now, that if you’re struggling and hurting and in that dark place, wondering how can I go on, contact us. As my wife, Jean, who lost her brother to suicide says often, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” And that is perfectly said. Your life is important. We care about you and we know that God cares about you and we want to help you as we can.

We have a team of Christian counselors who can listen to your story. They can pray with you and offer you, hopefully, resources and tools that can see you through this moment, this temporary moment. Don’t face the situation alone. That’s the key. Get in touch with us. Talk to us. Let us help you find handles to crawl out of this place and do it with the help of the Lord.

John: Well, our caring Christian counselors can be reached when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459. And just ask to talk to one of those counselors when you call.

Jim: And may I say, if you’re a friend of the ministry and have been a part of our financial support team, this is what it’s about, this kind of program that reaches somebody who’s in need. Can I ask you to help us be there for someone like Sarah? It’s gonna happen today. I know we are gonna get phone calls from people who need our help. And that’s you and us working together. And let me say thank you for the generosity toward Focus on the Family to do exactly that, provide godly advice and comfort so that people can have a new hope and a future. Your financial support is helping save lives and helping to rescue families that are literally on the brink of destruction. We can’t do it without you. Please help us today.

John: Donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY: 800-232-6459. And when you get in touch, we’ll have more information about Sarah’s book, In Capable Arms, which is such an inspirational story. And of course, we could only cover just a small part of it today. And when you make a donation of any amount to this listener-supported ministry, we’ll send a complimentary copy of that book to you as our way of saying thank you for your generous support and your partnership in this ministry.

We also have a CD or audio download of our entire conversation with Sarah. If, for whatever reason, you can’t be with us next time, do plan to order that. And you also might find it helpful to share with a friend who could benefit from her positive approach to life.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we hear more from Sarah Kovac.

Excerpt:

Sarah Kovac: But it’s hard. Like I know it’s hard, because you look at me and it looks like I’m struggling and it’s what God gave us to help somebody struggling. You know, that’s part of God’s nature in us and so, it’s hard to shut that off. It’s hard to let your brain say, okay, we’re not gonna react. We’re not gonna do anything. We’re just gonna wait. (Laughs)

End of Excerpt

John: Well, such a bright and optimistic look at life from Sarah Kovac and you’ll hear more from her tomorrow, as we once again, help your family thrive.

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In Capable Arms

Receive Sarah Kovac's book In Capable Arms for your donation of any amount!

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