Updated: Jan 8
For the past year, I have been praying for God to give me a theme for my writing and speaking. I was asked if I would be willing to speak at the EEFC’s youth retreat again, as I had last year. I said yes. Our leadership team came up with the theme of Relentless faith.
After coming home from the youth retreat I felt God give me my themes that I am to speak and write about: Relentless faith, Servant leadership, and daily authenticity.
I felt very strongly that I was to continue my theme of Relentless faith in the story now.
The more I grow in my faith, the louder my voice is for Jesus, and the more I am in His word, the more the enemy comes at me. So I asked Jesus, if I can use my voice for His good, then I will say yes and speak for Him. It is also in this place of growth and speaking for Jesus, that I realize more than ever, that we cannot "go it alone."
I need my crowd of witnesses around me as Heb 12:1 says, “There, since we are surrounded by such a large crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.” This is where I ask my girlfriends for prayer. And a big shout out to my tribe who love and support me. These ladies support me and have been praying for me as I prepare to share this story.
What is faith?
Hebrews 11:1 “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.”
What is Relentless faith?
Relentless faith is declaring, out loud, Jesus, I’M GOING TO PRAISE YOU IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STORM.
Relentless Faith is NOT QUITTING EVEN WHEN NOTHING MAKES SENSE.
Relentless faith is saying GOD, YOU ARE GOOD, EVEN WHEN I AM FALLING APART WITH GRIEF AND DESPAIR, YOUR GOODNESS DOES NOT DEPEND ON MY CIRCUMSTANCES…that is FAITH.
I haven’t always had faith like this. I am not sure what I was expecting when I prayed for faith, I think I was expecting a neat box, maybe even with a bow to fall into my lap from heaven and I’d open it up and look inside and say “oh look, it’s the faith I prayed for. Thanks God.” Ha, I laugh at how naïve I was.
7.5 years ago I was reading through the book of Job. Day by day I’d read from Job at my pace at my kitchen table, while my two girls napped. You guys, I was moved by the life and faith of Job. Something shifted in me. The Holy Spirit was stirring my heart. I could feel it. I didn’t want to just have this mediocre faith. I wanted BIG faith, I wanted faith that could endure every horrible thing and still say “God you’re good!” I wanted faith like JOB.
That fateful day, after finishing the book of Job, I prayed at my kitchen table that God would give me faith like Job. That prayer was deep and sincere because I was wanting more than what I was living.
I was about 20 weeks pregnant with our third baby. I had recently had my 3rd ultrasound, and it took forever. The technician was the same one I’d had for my other 2 ultrasounds. He kept telling me he couldn’t get a good picture. I thought nothing of it…Until the very next day.
Matt and I were hosting a brand new life group the next day. I was quite excited. Matt and I had gone through the training to be leaders and were anticipating meeting new couples. A few hours before this new group meets for the first time in our home, I got a phone call from my Doctor. Sophie, our middle daughter had just woken up from her nap and I was changing her.
“ You are not likely to have a healthy baby.” She says “ There was a lot wrong with the ultrasound. From what we can see, your baby will most likely have cystic fibrosis, CMV or the best case scenario, Down’s syndrome. You will need more testing. I am so sorry.” She told me not to google those things as that would not be helpful. We hung up.
I was stunned.
No, not me.
Not my baby.
And you guys, I heard this voice inside of me, saying, “Have faith like Job.”
In that moment, I knew that I would have to trust on this one. I had two choices: be bitter, angry, and upset. Or let go of what I was not in control of and trust that God was the same God that Job leaned on.
Trusting God made me feel so vulnerable. If I was angry I could take it out on someone, which is a very common and destructive response. I was given a statistic about how many marriages break up over this kind of stress. Oh the things people will tell you while you are struggling. But I realized that my husband had no more control over the situation or the ability to change it, so I would need to do this with him and alongside him.
The testing began soon after.
My husband and I arrive at our first fetal assessment at St. Boniface. These appointments would be weekly from now on. Before we even get our first fetal assessment done, the Specialist comes in and asks us if we want an abortion. Matt and I are stunned.
NO, we do not.
They do the fetal assessment ultrasound and tell us everything that is wrong. The Baby’s bowel is the wrong color, it is showing up very bright which is bad. Her heart didn’t look quite right. She was missing a vessel in her umbilical cord. And they pointed it all out to us so we could see what they were talking about.
Next was the blood tests that both Matt and I had to get done to rule out genetic diseases and various viruses we could be carrying. Then we went home and would return the next week for results and another assessment.
My heart was heavy.
As a nurse, I had seen and cared for sick and deformed babies on a few occasions. I have sat with mothers as they question me why this happened? Why did their child have to suffer? And I gave what small and insufficient comfort I could, watching so helplessly as these women’s babies and children needed highly specialized medical intervention simply to continue breathing. I was not ignorant to what the possibilities in front of me were. I was more informed then most what I may face for the rest of my child’s potential life. And it hurt me. What every mother dreams of is a beautiful healthy and whole baby.
To add to this stressful news was the fact that I already struggled with my own health during my previous pregnancies. One local doctor who I highly respect and work with told me my own immune system suppressed itself so that the baby could grow. This meant I was susceptible to every infection. It started with my first pregnancy and showed up as hives. I went to the ER two times thinking I was having an allergic reaction. My second pregnancy was worse, and I was on Benadryl for several weeks to contain the hives. I went into my 3rd pregnancy the healthiest and most fit I have ever been. I had worked so hard to get my body into a strong, healthy state. My expectations were so high for a healthy and great pregnancy. But after I got the news of the ultrasound, around 3 months the immune suppression showed up with a vengeance landing me in the ER with pneumonia and the doctors thinking that I may also have asthma. The hives showed up not much later, the worst they have ever been. They covered my body from head to toe, to inside my mouth and the soles of my feet. I felt tormented and utterly out of control.
Faith like Job, Sarah.
The testing continued. Matt and I went back a week later. Same Specialist. "Do you want an abortion?" That was the first thing she said to us. Not hello, not how was your week.
My jaw dropped yet again, “NO I do not,” I said. She proceeded to tell us that we were going to have to run more tests, the previous tests came back inconclusive. So off Matt and I went to the lab. More questions, more blood taken, more statistics given to us about percentages and probabilities. Then off for the fetal assessment. Not much had changed. Our baby remained the same. We were booked in for the next week, and back to Steinbach we went, solemn and unsure of the future.
Faith like Job.
I cried out to God in frustration. How can you expect me to be strong enough for this? I know what it takes to care for a sick baby. My own health was suffering and I was always fighting infections. I had no help and I had a toddler and a baby. My life felt like a hellish nightmare that I couldn’t make better. I remember Summer, who was almost 3 years old at the time, looking outside our back door longingly at the park behind our house and saying, “outside, outside.” I would look at her and apologize and say, “I’m so sorry! Mommy is too sick and too tired to take you outside today.” And every day for that matter. My baby Sophie lay in her crib so much longer than she should have because I was so physically sick and exhausted to take her out and play with her. The Benadryl that I needed to control the hives worsened the exhaustion to the point I could hardly keep my eyes open at times.
Week after week the darkness got darker and life became harder and harder.
People started praying. I thank my mother and my mother-in-law and our life group who reached out to the women around them to start praying for us and our hard situation. We found out later that the number of people praying for us spread far and wide, bigger than we knew at the time.
I remember one particular conversation with my older sister Jolene. She was reassuring me that God was with me in all this mess. I told her that I knew that, but it did not make the storm any less real, dark, or hard.
I was in the midst of the storm and saw no way out, all I could do was cling to my God in faith and hope that He would, indeed see me though. But I still cried myself to sleep every night, because the health struggles were real, and not knowing if my child would live or be whole ate me up alive.
Several weeks into our fetal assessments and testing, the doctors were truly stumped. Every result came back inconclusive. We were told this has never happened before and that they were going to send our next round of testing to the highest level at Health Science Center to their genetic specialists to see if they could determine what was going on. We were told by the St. Boniface fetal assessment specialist to come back next week for our weekly appointment and hopefully there would be results. We also told our specialist to stop offering us abortions. We told her we were keeping this child no matter what. She looked at us a bit surprised at our decision but said simply, " OK." She did not offer us another abortion.
My health struggles continued, I had constant chest infections, eye infections, ear, and bladder infections. My stomach was always so very upset and my autoimmune response was always active. I laugh now at how I looked like a spotted cheetah from the chronic hives but at the time I simply refused to go out looking like that, not that I had the energy anyway.
Faith like Job.
Our next fetal assessment Matt and I witnessed a miracle. Matt had just accepted a job in Steinbach, which he says he had been resisting but felt that he had to take especially if our child was to be so ill and incomplete. He felt strongly that God had told him to take the job, he said "yes" just before we walked into our fetal assessment for the ultrasound. The same technician that we had week after week greeted us and proceeded to show us everything that was missing or incomplete. We saw our daughter’s umbilical cord which was not pumping blood through one vessel. She showed us the one vessel and we watched the screen with her.
She says, “I don’t understand.”
And we see with our own eyes as our daughter's second vessel starts pumping blood and literally shows up before our own eyes on the screen.
We looked at her and we said, “We know how this happened, we have a village praying for us.”
She smiled so genuinely at us and said, “I have seen this happen to people of faith.” She leaves the room and comes back with the Doctor, the same specialist that kept offering the abortions to us. She was speechless. She tells us that she cannot explain this. She states that it is clearly documented on our chart, which she is holding and shows us, that this vessel was not functional and now it is. We tell her the same thing we told the technician, we have a village of people praying for us.”
Matt and I tear up having just witnessed the goodness of God. The doctor doesn’t know what to say to us. I found out years later that she was an atheist and I hope that some part of our story still speaks to her today.
Matt and I drove home to Steinbach in awe. We just witnessed that miracle together.
I would not say our faith was united or strong. That moment bonded us and it was beautiful. We were to come back next week as usual.
Something stirred my heart. I had to let go. Whatever control I wanted or felt I had, I needed to surrender. Through tears and a raw heart, I surrendered to God.
God, you are good no matter what I get. You are good if my baby is whole or is incomplete, you…are….good! Tears ran down my face as I let go and choose to accept the unknown.
When Matt came home that night, I told him the same thing. I was choosing to believe in the goodness of God, no matter what we got. There would be no more testing, no more statistics, no more weekly fetal assessments. We would surrender it all to God. He sided with me and agreed. I still had my regular prenatal appointments with my doctor in Steinbach but no more weekly trips to Winnipeg.
I’d like to say that it was all great from there. And in a lot of ways a massive mental and emotional stress was lifted. But my health continued to struggle. I was very isolated. I did not have many friends, and I had no family available that could help me.
At about 39 weeks pregnant, I went downstairs to a room we never used. It had a bunk bed. I curled up on that bottom bunk utterly exhausted. I closed my eyes and had the thought that "If I died right here in this moment, the suffering would be over." Baby and I would meet Jesus and I would not have to struggle anymore.
Death seemed to be so peaceful. Peace, what a beautiful thought after months of suffering physically and emotionally.
I did not want to die. It was at that moment I realized I needed help. I went upstairs and told Matt to take me to the ER or to take the children and let me sleep. I could not physically go on like this. I slept for 3 days straight, I got up only to use the washroom and to grab a quick bite of food, and back to sleep I went. I was still very sick, I had nagging pneumonia and a very hoarse cough that made my large, pregnant belly hurt so bad every time I had another coughing fit.
One week later our miracle was born. Emma Brynn Neufeld entered the world perfect, whole, and complete.
Faith like Job.
I look back on that entire ordeal, and with conviction, I believe God answered my prayer that fateful day when I asked to have Faith like Job. The faith I expected in the form of a neat box and a bow falling into my lap never came.
Those seven months were the darkest and hardest months of my life, but it was where my faith was truly born.
So many times I could have turned my back on God, but I didn’t. And God saw me through that storm and forged a faith so big in me that I stand here today to share it with you. I saw miracles happen and others around us saw them too. Our miracle turns 7 next month. She is my living and breathing reminder of God’s goodness and my journey in faith.
John Maxwell talks about asking God for a word to take with you for the year. So I decided that I would ask God for a word. It was the end of December 2019. So one afternoon, I prayed to God and asked Him to give me a word. I got the word “CHALLENGE” and I was like, “Are you sure God? Like this word? People get the word inspire, courage, change. Can we try this again?” I closed my eyes and tried to listen longer in hopes to receive a more inspiring word. I asked God again for a word, and He said “I already gave it to you, challenge.”
So I will use it boldly.
I challenge you to live out your faith big and bold and loud this year.
I challenge you to step out in faith where God is leading you.
I challenge you to speak up in your work place, where you gather with friends, and to be the voice proclaiming Jesus.
I challenge you to not hold back when you feel that nudge urging you to do that next right thing.
I challenge you to be different this year.
Dare to say, I’m no longer going to be passive. I will bow my head at work and thank Jesus for my lunch.
I will refuse to gossip about my co-worker or friend or neighbor or ex.
I will quit swearing when I am angry. I will get help for my addiction. I will no longer let that hurt from my past eat me alive. I will get help.
Ladies and gentlemen, the light we can shine when we challenge ourselves and step out in faith and simply live out God’s love without shame or fear or sin holding us back has the power to change the world around us.
I challenge you to be relentless in your pursuit of Jesus. Do not allow the world to get in your way. And when life is dark and messy and unclear and so painful, DECLARE “I’m going to praise you in the storm. I’m going to raise a hallelujah.”
That is faith.