Pain, Perseverance, and the Word: One Family’s Suffering Brings Hope to Many

Pain, Perseverance, and the Word: One Family’s Suffering Brings Hope to Many

March 1, 2016

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Sarah Keeling knew she’d lost her baby. Her family’s season of pain drove them back to Scripture—and not just for themselves.

Sarah Keeling was bleeding—badly. She knew this miscarriage was coming. Her baby, 11 weeks along, had died in utero a few days before. To make matters worse, as she lay in a San Antonio emergency room, her Grandma Jewell lay dying from Alzheimer’s disease in a Waco, Texas, nursing home three hours away.

Sarah’s husband, Ty, dropped her off and then took their 4-year-old son, Mack, to his parents’ house in another town. Better not to frighten him with hospital drama, they thought. Sarah’s mom normally would have stayed with her, but she left to spend some final moments with Grandma Jewell.

Except for hospital staff and patients, Sarah was alone. But she did have something: a CD of Scripture verses set to music by Seeds Family Worship (no relation to Seed Company). As Sarah endured the pain of her baby’s passing, she absorbed the verses playing over and over in her headphones.

Audio Scriptures had accompanied her through similar pain before. But this time, the calm that filled Sarah grabbed her doctor’s attention.

“You look OK with this,” he said to her. “How are you OK with this?”

“I’m not OK with it,” she said. “I just don’t know what to tell you.”

That was Nov. 10, 2014. Today, at 33, Sarah watches Mack help Ty with some chores from the cab of their pickup truck. She knows what she would tell that doctor now:

“It was probably the most difficult day of my life, but I felt peace because I just knew God was in control,” she says. “I was able to listen to his Word through those songs, and I just felt God’s presence so strongly during that time, like I never have before in my life.”

Encountering God’s presence through Scripture, as Sarah did that night, has led the Keelings to a conviction:

People everywhere need the Word of God.

“We truly believe in the Word and its transforming ability, and we want that,” says Ty, 34, a ranch manager who travels regularly throughout Texas and Mexico to monitor his boss’s cattle herd. “We’ve seen that in our lives and continue to see that.”

That conviction has grown alongside the couple’s investment in Bible translation via Seed Company, especially on behalf of people living in places hostile to the gospel. It’s made for a life focus that they never would have foreseen seven years ago.

That’s when the Keelings’ journey of spiritual maturity really began. It was spring 2008. Sarah, who has a master’s degree in counseling, was working near their home for a mental health clinic in Jourdanton, Texas. She visited clients all over Central Texas, often answering midnight calls to visit suicidal patients in ERs and jails.

Sarah also lugged paperwork home nightly. The workload punished her health. She suffered one sinus infection after another and finally underwent surgery to correct a deviated septum, just to get some relief. Clearly spent, Sarah quit the clinic.

When she got a job as an academic counselor at San Antonio College, the workload dropped significantly. Mysteriously, so did her health. Forty-five-minute commutes to and from San Antonio each day left her hurting all over, but she didn’t know why.

Ty and Sarah got some answers in July 2009 when doctors diagnosed her with a connective tissue disorder. It wasn’t lupus, but many of the symptoms were similar: high autoimmune antibody counts coupled with painful inflammation flares, Sarah calls them.

Late that year, Sarah discovered she was pregnant with Mack. Though considered high risk, the pregnancy went well. No infections. No flares. But when Mack was born in September 2010, the sky fell.

 

Ty, Sarah, and Mack Keeling

 

That day, of all days, Ty got laid off. Violence in Mexico made traveling there untenable, so Ty’s employer decided he didn’t need a full-time ranch manager. But then two weeks later, the two struck up an agreement to co-purchase herds of cattle. That remains the basis of their partnership today.

While Ty navigated momentary unemployment, Mack quickly became sick—really sick. He spent the first week of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit with respiratory problems. He recovered, but once home he suffered severe food allergies and gastric reflux. At bedtime, he would arch his back, turn purple, and scream all night. Every night.

Ty’s mother and a woman from their church named Elva shared overnight shifts with Mack for 12 weeks so Ty and Sarah could rest. But through his first months, Mack fussed through the night instead of sleeping or eating much of anything.

In the meantime, Sarah’s suffering grew worse. Autoimmune flares kept her bedridden with pain. Infections, one after the other, blasted her weakened body. Each time, doctors prescribed antibiotics; and each time, her body reacted badly. In response, doctors gave her steroid packs, which left her with adrenal problems.

In that cocoon of pain, unable to even focus on a page, Sarah discovered audio Scripture. Her Bible study leader told her about YouVersion, an app that allowed her to listen to the Bible instead of reading it. Just as would happen later with the miscarriage and Grandma Jewell’s death, Sarah found Scripture during suffering.

“For me, being a counselor, I can’t use my counseling theories. They are limited,” Sarah says.

“In our darkest moments, the only thing that is powerful enough is God’s Word.”

Both Sarah and Mack improved steadily over the next three years. Through restricted diets and medication, mom and son both now enjoy active lives. Ty continues as a ranch manager and is traveling extensively again for his job.

Early in her recovery, Sarah came across a blog post by author Ann Voskamp about a Seed Company Oral Bible Storytelling project in Asia nicknamed the Esther Cluster. The project focuses on women who suffer neglect and abuse.

“God worked in my heart and brought to mind the times when I had felt broken and sick and how much his Word had meant to me,” Sarah says.

“I thought, I just can’t imagine going through the hard things that they go through without God’s Word.

“There is not any hope when you are suffering that intensely—He is the only thing that really makes it worthwhile. I want people to know about the hope that we have because they suffer so, so much there.”

Today, watching Mack catch grasshoppers around one of the ranch’s outbuildings, the Keelings marvel at where God has brought them through their struggles and, yes, suffering.

“By the grace of God, it has unified us,” Ty says. “And a lot of it is walking through the darker times. He will give you more than you can handle because you have to go to him to handle it.” Sarah nods.

“And He has increased our faith,” she says. “When you go through those hard times, it forces you to cling, and it breaks you. But that is a good thing, I think. That is when you grow when you get rid of all the other stuff.

“It’s OK to not be OK,” she says. “That was my theme last year. God wants us to come to him with the hard stuff.”

Bible Translation Impacts the Family

If anyone has been changed by Ty and Sarah Keeling’s support for Bible translation, it’s their 5-year-old son Mack. Right after his parents returned from a recent Seed Company event, Sarah told Mack about a woman in Asia who preaches on television—a ministry that endangers her life.

“Mommy, stop,” Mack interrupted. “We need to pray for her right now.” So Mack did, right there, with his mom and grandmother. All of this just months after Mack had asked Jesus to be his Savior.

“For us, what he did there was this huge confirmation,” Sarah says. “He’d never done anything like that before. So we got to see the Holy Spirit working in Mack because of what we’re doing. It’s just really neat for us and for him to get to be a part of praying for the different translators, praying for the different projects.”

Generosity Means Sacrifice

For Ty and Sarah Keeling, what began as a gift given from abundance quickly became one given from sacrifice.

In 2014, through a partnership with his employer, Ty arranged to raise and sell a herd of cattle for what looked to be a large one-time profit. When Ty ran the numbers for the pending sale, he and Sarah decided to give five-figure amounts to multiple Christian ministries, including Seed Company.

At the same time, several people at Seed Company had been praying through Psalm 50:10—“For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.” Many people, including the Keelings, felt like the windfall and gift came as a result of those prayers.

Then the hit came. In fall 2015, the beef cattle market, which had been soaring atop record profits, dove to record losses.

The Keelings gave the money anyway. “The market is up and everything is good. … We give it, the market crashes,” Ty recalls. “You have a 30-percent drop. You are a margin operator, and your margin is 10 percent. So you bought at the high, and now you are going to sell at a huge low.

“When you get it jerked out from under you, you are left with nothing,” he says. “So, you are either going to say, ‘Adios,’ or you are going to say (to God), ‘You are telling me we are going to get through this; so, we are going to get through this.’”

The beef market has since recovered most of its losses. But in that interim, Ty and Sarah had real fears of going broke. It didn’t deter them from trusting God. In fact, Ty wouldn’t change their decision—especially because of what it taught him about faith.

“I don’t want it to be a guilt trip, but I do want to say, you would not believe how God can take care of you when you walk through that door and what transpires. There is so much reward mentally and heart-wise, you would make that decision every time going forward.”

Watch Sarah’s video story.

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