Surviving the Storm

By Elizabeth Barnhill

Sarah Nelson’s devotional brings encouraging scriptures to readers

Sarah Nelson and her husband Mark met at Baylor and chose to raise their three children in Waco. On their first ski trip as a family of five to Park City, Utah in 2014, their 2-year-old daughter Adalee experienced an ischemic stroke that left her completely paralyzed on her right side and unable to walk or talk.

The doctors in Utah told the Nelsons that Adalee would most likely not fully recover. They spent two weeks in the hospital in Utah then transferred Adalee to an inpatient rehab in Dallas for a month. Doctors there were unable to find a specific reason for the stroke, which they told the Nelsons was a good diagnosis.

They said “a perfect storm” of conditions had caused this rare crisis.

While the Nelsons were in the hospital, their life group at First Baptist Woodway sent them a basket that included scriptures attached to a metal ring.

“I used those scriptures to help me rely on my faith and get us through this life-threatening situation. I could really feel God breathing those lessons into our hearts,” Nelson explained.

Nelson felt called to share what the scriptures were doing to help sustain her. She began to write updates on Adalee’s progress on her CaringBridge site, an online personal health journal for sharing health updates with friends and family. A year after Adalee’s stroke, Nelson decided to develop her posts and the scriptures that comforted her into a devotional book. The result is “A Perfect Storm,” which reflects Nelson’s passion for sharing how God’s grace helped her and her family through difficult times.

Adalee spent much of her preschool years in therapy and is now an active 11-year-old.

“Adalee is a joyful and determined fifth grader because of everything she has had to overcome. If you were to see her today, you would never know what she has been through,” Nelson said. Adalee occasionally signs books with her mom and has made videos on social media supporting her mother’s devotional book.

Nelson is a gifted musician who uses her talents in the worship ministry of her church. She has helped lead worship since the age of 13 and has been on the praise team of First Baptist Woodway for 18 years.

“I have a background in song writing but never thought I would be an author,” Nelson said. “At first, the idea of telling my personal story in a devotional format felt uncomfortable to me, but I know how well people relate to stories. The apostle Paul told his personal story everywhere he went, and Jesus related to people through parables. The scriptures provide the backdrop to our story, with the application in the forefront. I wanted everyone to be able to pick up my book and relate to it in some way.”

Nelson’s friend Shelley Reeves is a featured writer in “A Perfect Storm.” While Nelson was experiencing her family’s crisis, Reeves was in the middle of her own. She was pregnant with her fourth child, who she was told would not live. Reeves writes that the scriptures that comforted Nelson also were a balm to her soul.

Although Nelson had not lost her child, she knew she would be sharing her testimony with women who had lost theirs. This is where Reeves’ contribution to the book is so important. Reeves states that while Nelson’s daughter did not pass away, Nelson’s testimony was no less impactful. Reeves still felt the presence of God throughout that time.

Nelson has shared her experience in worship settings and to the community group Moms of Preschoolers and other women’s groups. She is often asked to address child advocacy; children in crisis; how the Lord speaks to us in difficult circumstances; and even her journey of getting her book published. She has been a guest on numerous podcasts and is an active contributor to the Waco Moms Blog.

“The main way ‘A Perfect Storm’ is different from other devotional books is that it pivots from receiving the Lord and His grace to encouraging readers to take that comfort and offer it to others,” she said. She reports that she has had numerous conversations with women who have gone through a crisis and have gained comfort from her book.

Nelson is open to the possibility of writing more devotional books but is spending her time now writing for medical journals. Her goal is to help other families in similar circumstances, since childhood strokes with no preexisting conditions are so rare and very little is published about them.

Nelson never wanted to use her daughter’s health crisis as a platform but is thrilled to see that the devotionals she wrote have helped people in crisis. “A Perfect Storm” is self-published and can be found at Fabled Bookstore or on her website