Sarah Rodriguez Rhodes Written by Jasmine Abraham
When Sarah Rodriguez walked down the aisle to meet her beloved, she had no idea that their lives would forever be a testament of God’s unchanging love and His constant presence. Sarah and Joel were married just a few short years before receiving the devastating news that Joel not only had kidney cancer, but that he was also in its advanced stages. Joel underwent chemotherapy, and the cancer went into remission until three days after their son, Milo, conceived through IVF, was born. Their story doesn’t end there.
Before his passing in July of 2013, Joel told Sarah that she would have another child, specifically, that it would be a girl. The fertility clinic that they had gone to still had two embryos, and it was then that Sarah realized there was a reason they decided to freeze Joel’s sperm. A few weeks after the birth of Ellis, the daughter that Joel knew Sarah would have, Sarah realized that something was wrong. Ellis would come to be diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, as well as stay in the hospital in critical condition, fighting for her life for almost three weeks. After taking baby Ellis off the ventilator, medical professionals expected her to die in her mother’s arms. However, Ellis proved everyone wrong, showing that what seemed to be the end of a book, was just the preface.
From the birth of Esther, all the way to fulfilling her role as Queen of Persia, God, seemingly invisible, orchestrated the events that would impact generations to come. Although God’s name is not mentioned once in the book of Esther, His fingerprints can be clearly seen throughout her story. Just as Esther had no idea of the people she would come to influence nor the way in which God was working behind the scenes, Sarah Rodriguez had no idea of the orchestration of events that would come through pouring her emotions into a simple blog.
How did you start the blogging process?
I started blogging in 2010, when Joel was diagnosed with cancer. We had spent the whole day of his diagnosis telling the story over and over again to everyone. It was so emotionally draining.
My initial plan was to just give an overall report of the dates and information of his appointments. However, from the first post, I just remember writing and crying as I was writing it. It wasn’t even about the technical stuff, but more about what was going on in our hearts. As people started reading and connecting to our story, we could see that God was really using our blog. There were 1.5 million visitors a day, from 160 different countries. I was receiving emails from people all around the world, showing their support and telling us how they were praying for us. It is so hard to think of the impact you could have on people when you are sitting in a hospital room and everything seems bleak.
I just felt that throughout our experiences, God was just telling me that “this story is bigger than you” In those dark moments, i didn’t understand that. The moments that we are living in today are the moments that he was whispering to my heart about years ago. It’s crazy to see the redemptive characteristics of the story he was offering all the way through
How has your relationship with God changed?
Our relationship is raw. I feel like we so often try to have this “Christian response” in the way that we come to God. We try to hide parts of our heart. If you think back to the garden of Eden, there was supposed to be intimacy, but we try to cover ourselves. That was never how it was supposed to be. For me, it’s all about getting back to that place of being raw. All around us are these lies that we can’t be ourselves when it comes to our relationship with God. Even Jesus on the cross was feeling forsaken! If He, who is God, felt that way, we have so much grace to process through our journey with Him. Through this whole process I've realized that now, there is nothing that I can't say to God. I can tell Him if I am sad, upset, disappointed; I have the freedom to tell Him. He is big enough to handle it. I would say that's the biggest shift in our relationship. For me all along it's been trusting His heart for me. We do that with so many people in our day to day relationships.
If one of our friends didn’t show up for something, we would assume that she had something going on in her own life.
With God, at the first sign of disappointment, we shut our hearts off to Him and say “He didn’t do this, He wasn’t here.” We don’t extend any grace towards Him, nor do we trust his sovereignty as well as the fact that only He can see the big picture. He's got our best interests at heart and is always telling us to trust His heart for us and that He is good for us. Personally, that's always what I’m coming back to. It really is a hard process to get to that point, trusting that He is always going to bring me back to solid ground because He loves us and is for us. When Joel was diagnosed, one of the first things that God told me was, “my love will never fail you.” All I wanted was a word that Joel would be healed and that he would be okay, but instead, God was telling me that His love would never fail me. I see and understand now that would have to be my belief going forward-- that God’s love would never fail me, no matter what happened.
What would your advice be to women who have gone through something difficult?
There’s so much grace in the journey. There is nothing that you must strive to be, and there is no destination. Everything that we walk through and experience, it’s all the journey. You just have to be authentically you in the process. The beautiful part is that this is where the beauty and the growth come from- when we are stumbling, questioning, and wrestling.
Would you encourage women who have a difficult story or have been through a difficult time to share their story?
The most powerful thing about us is our story. There’s so much power in sharing our stories both vulnerably and authentically. However, that’s not the same thing for everyone. People don’t process things the same way. For me, I am an outward processor, so conveying how I felt through written word helped me to process what was happening. For some, that might mean sharing their story one on one over coffee. It’s all about just being willing to talk about where we've been and where we are going and what we are wrestling with in between. This is what draws us closer to God and draws us closer to one another as women. Honestly, you really never know the lives that you are touching just by sharing your story. I get emails all the time from people that blow my mind. It just makes me think, “Really? I’m kind of being selfish because I am just taking this open forum and at the beginning, I wasn’t thinking about doing it for other people. It was more for me, but in the process, other people’s lives were being touched, and that is so humbling. All I am doing is just being willing to share my journey. How God uses it, takes it and gives it wings… that’s in His hands. When we go through trials and challenges, many times, what comes out of those situations helps countless others.
Do you feel that it’s important for women to know that they have a voice and that they have a purpose?
I believe that we are at such a cool time in history where women are being raised up in powerful ways. You know, I was always the kid that was so stubborn and hard headed in a lot of ways; I was made to feel bad for my spunk and tenacity. But now, looking back I know that God instilled those characteristics within me because He knew that I would need them to face what I would later have to face. This is a time in a history where women are not afraid of being who they were created to be, not apologizing for it and actually embracing it. I love to see so many women around me finding their voice and using it in powerful ways
How would you encourage women to live a meaningful, impactful life and why is that important?
In a lot of ways I’m grateful for what I’ve gone through because it has caused me to see life through different lenses. The biggest blessing has been that I realized that life is such a gift. It is so incredibly short and every day is one less day that we have on this earth to live in it.
What are we doing in life to live in appreciation of that gift and live it with purpose and passion?
I feel like that through what we as a family have gone through, I have been able to gain a greater understanding of this. For women and especially stay at home moms, it’s hard to try to find the gift of life in the mundane. It’s easy to just think about the small day-to-day things that you do, like wiping noses or changing diapers, but really, you can find the gift in the small of it and treasure that.
I’d give anything for one more movie night on the couch with Joel or a hug from him. Those are the small moments that we take for granted everyday
It’s so crucial to see the gifts in the small moments as well as to understand how blessed we are to have our health and family.
Another crucial aspect to remember is that God, in his goodness, authors such a unique story in all of us. As women, we so often want to compare what he is doing in others to what he is doing in us.
Your story is so uniquely yours. There's purpose in your story- every bit of it.
I wish we would champion the goal we see in others. Comparison is the thief of joy. If we could be confident in who we are and what he is doing within us and could pull that out of other people- there would be no stopping us. The lie is that we have to be better and compete. You are beautiful and here for a purpose and for such a time as this. Rest and trust in the story that He is writing you because it is powerful and it is uniquely yours.
Sarah’s book, “From Depths We Rise” is available on Amazon, ChristianBook.com and at Barnes and Noble.