After a bike crash, Sarah’s daughter was diagnosed with kidney disease, and then her marriage fell apart. She shares lessons on survival with God’s help.
Sarah Gowans: Lessons from a Bike Crash, Kidney Disease, and Divorce
Sometimes people have periods of their life that seem to follow the saying,“when it rains, it pours.” Sarah Gowans had 3 years (2009-2012) where things seemed to go from bad to worse. First, she was hit by a car while riding her bike, then her daughter almost died from Kidney disease, and while she was helping her daughter recover her husband told her he no longer wanted to be married.
- Sarah is a wife and mother of 5 daughters
- She has been studying health and wellness for over 10 years.
- Sarah is a Licensed Massage Therapist and a member of the American Footzonology® Practitioners Association.
- She has presented on health, relationships, and lifestyle on radio, and other various events.
- Sarah is a lover of nature, hiking, running, cycling, and water and snow skiing, yoga, and strength training.
- She is an avid reader.
- She also spends time each day meditating and connecting with her spirit and God.
Sarah had a car turn in front of her while she was biking and hit the car with her head, shoulders and face. It was the most painful thing she had experienced up to that point. Miraculously she didn’t break any bones, but did chip some teeth, had a big gash and some pretty sore.
This was her little wake-up call, even though Sarah didn’t know it yet. Life was about to change for her and it was time to do some growing.
First Lessons Learned
- Work with your healthcare practitioners to help you take care of body especially when you go through physical trauma.
- Prioritize taking care of your body because you need your health to keep going.
Sarah feels like the pain and recovery she experienced after the bike crash was physical pain, whereas the pain she would soon experience was more emotional and spiritual pain. She explained that if she had to pick between physical pain and emotional pain, she would pick physical pain every time.
Daughter with Kidney Failure
One day Sarah noticed that her 7-year-old daughter Halle looked heavier all of the sudden. A few days later as she went to help her bathe, she noticed even more that her body just looked swollen. Halle’s ankles, stomach and even eyelids were swollen, and Sarah knew this wasn’t normal.
So, she took her to the doctor who did some blood and urine tests to see if they could figure out what was wrong. The doctor called them to come back when the tests were done and had them come right back into his office instead of going to the waiting room. That was Sarah’s first clue that something was really wrong.
The pediatrician told them there was something wrong with Halle’s kidneys, and because he had studied with a nephrologist (kidney doctor) at one point he was able to recognize the signs and symptoms before she got worse. He said he believed their daughter had Minimal Change Disease.
What is Minimal Change Disease?
Minimal Change Disease is a disease of the kidneys. The first thing to know is that kidneys are supposed to filter waste out of our blood several times per day. Kidneys are supposed to leave proteins in the blood, but Halle’s kidneys were filtering the protein out and it was spilling over into her urine. This causes edema, or swelling.
The reason it is called Minimal Change Disease is that if you were to compare a healthy kidney biopsy and with a diseased kidney biopsy under a regular microscope, they would look the same. It isn’t until you look at the biopsies under an electron microscope where you can see that the filters aren’t working. This is why it is called Minimal Change Disease–because you can’t see a change under a regular microscope.
Blessings and Treatment
The fact that their pediatrician diagnosed Halle correctly quickly was the first blessing Sarah noted because often patients go undiagnosed for many weeks while doctors urge their patients to change their diets and try other remedies. The wait is not good for the kidneys.
They ended up going to a nephrologist up at the University of Utah, and the doctors gave Halle a good prognosis. They thought they’d be able to manage the disease with steroids.
Sarah realized how serious this was when she took her first prescription of Prednisone to be filled at the pharmacy and the pharmacist looked at the prescription and told her the doctor must have made a mistake because that dose was way too high for a 7-year-old girl. Sarah just burst into tears because she knew it wasn’t written incorrectly–it had to be a high dose to kick Halle’s kidneys into gear.
They were hopeful that these massive doses of steroids would help her kidneys and decrease the swelling that was so painful. As they started the high dose it would decrease the swelling, but the doctors didn’t want to keep her at such a high dose, so they would then taper her down, and the swelling would increase again. So it was a cycle for several months up and down.
Prayers Don’t Work
One night in particular, Halle came to them in tears begging that they would help her because it felt like there were knives in her legs. Of course as a mom, Sarah wanted so badly to just take the pain away.
Sarah grew up believing in God and so it was natural for her to turn to God and pray with Halle for relief from the pain. Unfortunately even with the prayers the pain didn’t decrease. Halle eventually just cried herself to sleep. This went on for a while and it was so hard for Sarah to watch her daughter suffer.
After several cycles and Halle coming to her for comfort and prayers, Halle finally told Sarah, “Mom, we’ve said prayers. Prayers don’t work. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t help.” Sarah’s heart sank, but she knew her daughter was right. Prayer wasn’t changing anything yet she didn’t want Halle to lose her faith so young.
Crisis of Faith
That night Sarah went to her knees and prayed for help. She was almost to the point of losing faith herself. It was a crisis of faith for her. She had believed in God her whole life and her life had been pretty good so far. This was the hardest trial she had experienced until that point.
She began to wonder if God really was there. Her child could be dying and she was doing the best that she could. It seemed like God was silent.
Sarah began to wonder what she really believed. Did she believe that God really did answer prayers even when He was silent?
Sarah wondered how much faith she really had if this was all it took to knock her off the rails. She came to the conclusion that either she had faith or she didn’t. She knew she didn’t feel God right then, but decided she could choose faith or not.
She decided to choose faith.
What Helped Sarah Choose Faith?
When I asked Sarah what made her choose faith she said it was a combination of a few things:
- It was deeply ingrained in her soul that God lived. She had been taught that since she was little.
- Sarah also remembered times in the past where she knew that God had answered her prayers. She had also had experiences where she knew God was there.
- She decided she knew her faith was deeper than her doubts, and she thinks that is because she chose to read her scriptures, pray, and do things to bring her closer to God for many years.
After Sarah made the decision to choose faith, she prayed for some kind of answer to know what to tell Halle so she didn’t lose faith. The answer didn’t come right away, but as she was reading in her scriptures the next day the answer finally came.
Sarah was reading about a people that were in bondage and were slaves and they cried unto God because the burden was too heavy. God told them that He would make their burdens light so that they could continue to carry the heavy load.
This was her answer. The answer wasn’t that God would take the burden away. The answer was that God would make them stronger so they could carry the burden. She realized then that this was part of her journey and Halle’s journey to make them both stronger and it wasn’t right for her to try to pray that away.
So, Sarah knew she needed to change her prayer that God would strengthen them to bear their burden. This was hard because as a parent she wanted to take her daughter’s burden away. Sarah didn’t want to see Halle suffer, but she also knew now that she needed to be strong for her.
So, Sarah took Halle aside and taught her God’s answer and that they did need to change their prayer that she would be strengthened as she carried her burden. It was a powerful teaching moment for her and Halle to realize that God is there and He answers their prayers.
This lesson is applicable to all of us who struggle and want our burdens taken away. Sometimes we just need to change our prayer and ask God to help make us stronger so we can bear the challenge.
Other Lessons from Kidney Disease
- Don’t blow up the problem in your mind and make it worse than it is. We sometimes imagine the worst case scenario and then spend so much time worrying that is going to happen, when it doesn’t.
- Halle was prayed over or “blessed” several times and told she would be okay. And then she would relapse and Sarah would wonder why she wasn’t okay. Sarah learned that God’s timing is not our timing and that truly in the end Halle was okay, but just not as quickly as Sarah hoped she would be.
- So Sarah developed patience as she learned to trust in God and his timing (even though it just wasn’t as fast as she had hoped it would be.) Never pray for patience, by the way. God seems to know we need patience and He gives us ample opportunities to develop it over days, weeks and years. These growing pains take time, and we need to allow God to work and change our insides.
To conclude this part of the story, Halle went through several more cycles over the next 5 years and even had to try chemotherapy to finally get her kidneys to respond normally. She hasn’t had a relapse since she was 12-years-old.
Marital Challenges & Divorce
Sarah was in the car accident in August 2009, Halle began having kidney problems in September, and then in January 2010 her husband came to her and said. “I don’t think I love you anymore and I don’t want to be married anymore.”
This happened right as she was taking care of her daughter, getting up in the middle of the night to give her medication.
This was devastating to Sarah! She was shocked and surprised!
She told him that they could do this and she was willing to go to counseling.
“Never in my mind was divorce an option for me” Sarah admitted.
So, they started going to counseling. But he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be married–he was kind of on the fence.
Finally their counselor told him, “I cannot counsel someone who isn’t sure if they want to be married or not. So, you need to decide. Either you are in or you are out. If you are in, then I can counsel you. If you’re not sure, there is nothing I can do.”
So, he stopped going to counseling because he needed time to think about this decision. Meanwhile, Sarah kept going to counseling so she could deal with the situation.
So, they lived in limbo for about a year. Living is limbo is so hard! Anyone who has ever been paralyzed by this type of indecision of not knowing how things will turn out knows how hard this is.
“If you are waiting and you can’t move forward, it is hard!” Sarah commented.
Sarah now feels that this “limbo” time gave her time to work on herself.
Her counselor recommended a book called, The Road Less Traveled, which started an inner journey for her. “Regardless of whether my marriage worked out or not, I needed to work on me.”
Lesson: Putting God First
Sarah came to realize through this journey that she depended on her husband for her happiness and security, and that at times she even placed him before God. And that wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
“That is one of the things I came to realize, that I need to rely more on God and less on man. It is crucial that God is first in our lives,” Sarah emphasized.
So, Sarah was able to develop true faith and trust in God. She had to ask herself, if her husband were gone, would she still have faith in God?
Sarah came to realize that she could not control her husband. She could only control herself and her decisions and actions.
She spent this year, strengthening her faith, strengthening her character, figuring out who she really was as a daughter of God.
Here are the 6 Things Sarah Did to Deepen Her Relationship With God
- She spent time in prayer: “I really learned during that time to talk to Heavenly Father instead of just saying a prayer.”
- Reading the book The Road Less Traveled, helped guide her on this journey.
- Sarah learned to meditate–meditates means she cleared out the negative, and said positive affirmations.
- She also learned to study her scriptures looking for answers instead of just reading them to check a box in her head.
- Sarah also thought about and found things to be grateful for–and thanked God for these things.
- She also found great value in being still.
Up until this point, Sarah lived the gospel of Jesus Christ in her head. She knew it was good and right, but it wasn’t in her heart.
Favorite Bible Verse
Philippians [4:13], “I can do all things through Christ…” became Sarah’s favorite scripture through all of these trials because she knew she couldn’t do it on my own. It was too big. She needed Him!
Sarah shared the story of how it was hard for her to be able to forgive when the pain was so deep. She tells the story of knowing a meeting was coming up where she would have to face someone she knew she needed to forgive, but it was just so very heavy. She knew she couldn’t do it on her own.
Finally, in desperation, Sarah dropped to her knees and told God how she wanted to forgive this person but needed and begged for help. She said she was putting out the intention and desire to forgive, but the burden of the pain seemed to big to be able to overcome on her own.
What happened during the meeting was a miracle, “Christ came in and took my heart and He put His heart in my heart. and I just melted and I genuinely wanted to give that person a hug and tell them ‘I forgive you.’ It was not me. It was Christ stepping in and doing what I could not do on my own.”
Sarah said there are some people like Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place who went through so much worse in a concentration camp, but she too had a miraculous experience where she was able to forgive.
You don’t have to carry pain and sorrow and heavy burdens on our own–turn it over to God.
Tip: Forgive sooner versus later so you don’t have to carry it around so long.
Lesson: There is Great Power in Good Music
There were times when Sarah didn’t think she could go any further, even with God’s help. She felt very lonely.
There were three songs she played repeatedly when she was in despair:
Sarah’s Dark Days Playlist
- “Strong Enough” by Matthew West
- “When Faith Endures” by Alex Boyé
- “Beautiful Heartbreak” by Hilary Weeks
“When you are given a heavy burden that is hard to bear, let music help lift you,” Sarah advised.
Cut out the yucky music and media and replace it with positive and uplifting music. It will cheer you up and help you keep going.
Lesson: Journaling and Counseling
It is important to process things that are heavy either in writing or talking it out or perhaps doing a bit of both.
One counselor, Andrea Carver, taught Sarah to keep both a dark notebook and a light notebook. You write your dark, negative thoughts in the dark one and your positive thoughts in the light one.
Get those negative thoughts out of your head. Don’t give them power–write them down. Get them out and then heal.
An important thing to remember is to write two light thoughts for every dark thought.
If you aren’t a writer, go to a therapist and get the negative stuff out that way.
You do need to process all of the change and the hard things, and talking to a friend or therapist will help you do that. Journaling will also help you process your tough times.
Be patient with yourself. Sarah had a point where she chanted the mantra, “I have to be like Christ, I have to be like Christ,” but then it dawned on her, “but I’m not Christ.”
Be kind to yourself. Be like Christ, but remember we don’t have to be Him.
Be human. Be where you are with the intention of improving.
Although Sarah is not currently working, this website has her info where people can reach out and find her.