In Capable Arms:
Living a Life Embraced by Grace
Sarah's Story . . .
In 1983, when my mom found
out she was pregnant, the decision to keep the baby or not was not an easy one.
A close relative was the first to suggest she abort and move on with her
life, and my mom's boyfriend said he'd go along with whatever she decided. She
was a 19-year-old, pro-choice, unwed college student working at a fast-food restaurant ... and she was a woman with a strong heart.
She decided to
keep the baby, and she married my dad. My parents had no idea I would be born with any disability, and, due to the rarity of the defect, the doctors had no idea what they were dealing with. I had
"stork bites" (blood vessels close to the surface) on my face, and those,
combined with the disfigurement of my arms, caused the doctors to give my young
parents the grim diagnosis: I was blind, mentally challenged, I would never walk
or be independent. And the list went on.
I was ultimately diagnosed with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC) and my parents were told I
could lead a relatively normal life. My parents did their best to
treat me like any other child. I wrote with my feet, learned to ride a bike
without training wheels, attended a regular private Christian school, and
learned to adapt to my surroundings quickly.
I always had a small circle of friends, but I was
very shy and afraid of rejection.
In junior high, my
self-esteem plummeted. I struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide. From the
outside, I looked like a happy-go-lucky sweet little church girl, but on the
inside, I was a mess. I know none of my readers can relate.
High school was a
time of just 'hanging on.' I didn't fit in. My physical
limitations kept me from doing my hair the cool way and wearing the cool clothes. I was a band geek. I felt like an outcast but I knew if I could
make it out of high school, I could fit in among other outcasts like me in college - and that's pretty much what happened.
In college, my self confidence increased but my behavior and morals decreased. Under the influence of my new friends, I began compromising the beliefs I had cherished since childhood. Again, I'm sure
that none of my readers can relate.
I was beginning to come out of this wilder
phase of my life when I fell in love with a wonderful man. Adam knew about my
previous wildness, and my devout faith previous to that. He knew every dirty
little secret I could think to tell him, yet his love for me
was unshakable. (In that way especially, my husband shows me a great example of my
Father's love and acceptance.) A year and a half after we met at Dairy Queen, Adam and I married on a beach in the Dominican Republic.
When I became pregnant, Adam and I were not worried about how I would manage.
Adam isn't the type to worry about me in that way, and I was confident that I
would figure things out. However, when others started asking questions, I started to fear that I might have created a life that I was
incapable of sustaining.
After Ethan was born I realized
my fears were unfounded. God had already provided me with the creativity to work around
most things, and a wonderful husband to help me with the few things I couldn't do on my own.
When Ethan was eight months old, I saw that CNN.com was looking for videos of families coping with disabilities. My first thought was, 'my story is pretty
interesting. I could upload a video.' But then my insecurity immediately told me
I was nuts. I've spent my whole life trying to show people that I'm NOT
disabled. I purposely wore long-sleeved T-shirts to certain events so people
wouldn't notice my arms. I would wait until a grocery aisle was cleared of
people before I grabbed something down with my foot to avoid stares (actually, I
still do this).
After some thought I finally decided my arms are my arms, whether I like them or not. Hiding them is
just ridiculous. They're not going away. If my story
can encourage somebody, then I'm going to tell it, even if it makes me
uncomfortable. So I made a video and uploaded it and the next thing I knew a CNN producer was calling - and then this ...
Our picture was next to a photo of the Pope!
Since we were featured on CNN.com, I've had many other opportunities to encourage others with a few videos I've posted on YouTube and simply by telling my story, as imperfect as it is.
And what is that story? It is not one of conquering all obstacles. Many obstacles are too much for me - I just don't post those moments on YouTube. My story is not that of a girl who has overcome all odds to achieve greatness. Sure, I've had some odds to compete with, but for all intents and purposes, I'm a stay-at-home mom who hasn't completed college.
I've hardly achieved any spectacular accomplishments to speak of. But ... I've learned to let go and I've learned self acceptance.
We all have things about ourselves we would like to hide - things we are ashamed of and would rather pretend aren't there.
In my blatant disregard for my insecurity, I found that the very ugliness I hated so much literally contained God's purpose for me. I was happy to let Him use my writing or musical talents for His glory, but it took a long time for me to surrender my weakness to Him. It turns out that is where His power works best!
We say God loves us, and we tell others that God loves them - but do we really believe it? Do you believe that God's love is bigger than even the ugliest flaw - be it character, physical, etc.?
If we keep things from Him, He can neither heal them nor use them to heal others. So take some time to search your heart and be honest with yourself about what you find there. And then, be honest with your loving Heavenly Father. Give Him your weakness and see what His power can do.
Speaking Topics Include . . .
In Capable Arms
Sarah shares her story with varying emphases, depending on the audience and the purpose of the event. She presents messages that are appropriate for faith-based audiences, corporate conferences, and special needs organizations. Sarah Kovac is the author of In Capable Arms: Living a Life Embraced By Grace. She shares from her own unique experiences a message of hope and of overcoming - her story is motivating and inspiring to everyone who hears it.
God is not wasteful. Even our most painful experiences are often used as integral parts of His plan for us. Imagine what redemption could feel like if you surrendered even your most painful, shameful flaws and hurts to Him. Imagine those hurts bringing healing to others and becoming sources of joy rather than pain. God is in the recycling business. What beauty could He make from your ashes?
Don't Be a Chicken
Chickens will literally peck each other to death when they detect a wound. Jesus sets the ultimate example of what God can do through us when we make ourselves vulnerable. We see Jesus on the cross, naked and dying - as vulnerable as it gets. And in that act of vulnerability is our salvation. But how can we follow Christ in vulnerability and openness if we fear being "pecked" to death by the people around us? This talk boils down to (a) what God can do with a vulnerable heart, and (b) how we can create a culture where vulnerability is not so scary.
Hello, My Name Is . . .
We all have things that come along in life which would define us, but does it have to be that way? Must we live under the label life has given us? Failure. Addict. Cripple. Abused. These things may happen to us, but you and I choose who we will be. This talk will make you question how you see yourself, how you see others, and will inspire you to be the person you can be, despite what life may tell you.
Adjust Your Sails
Though the wind may be strong and against a little sailboat, a skilled sailor can still get where she needs to be. If she is aware of what things she can change (her sails), and what things she can't (the wind), nothing can hold her back. When forces larger than us threaten to push us backwards, can we adjust our attitudes and allow even adversity to pull us forward? Attendees will be asked to consider what is really holding them back. They often find that the situation itself is not the true obstacle, but rather their apporach is what binds them.
Testimonials . . .
"Sarah is a wonderful speaker with an inspiring message. Her sense of humor and personality make her a rare gem."
Denise Rinard, Learning Resource Coordinator
"I loved having Sarah Kovac visit us at our spring women's conference, 'In His Arms.' Sarah is amazing! She's warm and friendly and is so confident with her 'disability' that she doesn't seem to have a disability at all. People of all ages will enjoy her and will come away from her presentation with a fresh appreciation for the way God works in our lives. I can't wait to read her book!"
Marcy Lucas, Women's Leadership Team
"I believe that handicapped individuals as well as those who have never suffered severly from a physical disability have much to learn from Sarah."
Stephanie Glenn, Conference Attendee
"Sarah shared her struggles with humor, dignity and grace. Not everyone has AMC but we all have barriers and she is an inspiration in dealing with barriers and overcoming challenges."
Kim Hubbard, Conference Attendee
"Sarah is encouraging. Being a parent of a handicapped son, she gave me belief that God knew what He was doing when He craeted my son. ... God may not heal the disability, but He heals the heart and lets us accept it and to grow in His love and trust Him that He picks us just the way He wants us!"
Beth Wilson, Conference Attendee
"I was impressed with her humbleness as she presented. Her willingness to show us her struggles, how she dealt with them, relied on God and to let us all know that we too can hope in our struggles in life."
Carol French, Conference Attendee
"Sarah's presentation was excellent. She kept the audience engaged and had a great story to tell. I received feedback from my students on how they enjoyed hearing from our guest speaker. My students appreciated our guest speaker. She gave them inspiration to take their education into the field of their choice. Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your story which I personally took so much from."
Shawn Riggins, Campus Director
"Whenever I feel down or feel like I can't accomplish something, I am going to think of [Sarah] ..."
Vicki McClurg, Instructor
"Sarah Kovac is an inspirational speaker for the masses. She renewed my life."
Jason Cook, Instructor
Jim Coots, Program Director
"Sarah has a powerful testimony of overcoming adversity that I'll not soon forget. Her love for God, family, and others shines through everything she shares and I was very encouraged after hearing her speak!"
Ken Maxey, Pastor
"Sarah Kovac has an inspirational message that appeals to any age level. She has an amazing life story that encourages all of us to keep going and trusting God, no matter what we face in life."
Jeanette Marriott, Event Coordinator
"Sarah tells a powerful story of learning to accept who she is - an imperfect child of God. She sees her disability as a challenge to face and an opportunity to learn dependence on God."
Jane Reynolds, Women's Ministry Team