We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Walton and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Sarah, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
Originally from the Chicago suburbs, I grew up with two older brothers and was fortunate to have parents who were both loving and supportive. As a child, I spent the majority of my younger years on a field or a court, setting my eyes on a college career by the time I began high school. Overall, life was good. I had a loving family, was thriving in athletics, and had my eyes set on a clear path that seemed to be a sure thing.

That path, however, took a sudden and unexpected detour when I suffered a debilitating ankle injury, ending any and all hopes for playing collegiate sports. The path that was once so clear was now filled with unknowns, disappointment, and the loss of a dream. Who was I without the ability to do what I loved and succeeded at? That question, and the struggle to find the answers, sent me into a tailspin, unsure of what my purpose was and my future would hold – eventually landing me in the pediatric psych ward as I battled a deep and dark depression.

I was lost, hurting, and desperately searching for hope beyond the losses in front of me. And it took me hitting rock bottom to find it.

Sitting in silence with the loud echo of an aching heart, I opened the bible that was given to me as I sat alone in a stark white hospital room. In it, I desperately searched for answers and for the first time, I found was I was searching for.

“For you [God] created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be” Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV)

Tears started to roll down my face. Not only was I created by the God who created the entire universe, but I was made with a unique and specific purpose. To me, that purpose seemed to be succeeding in an athletic career that I had worked incredibly hard for, but maybe God had more for me than I was yet to realize. Instead of following my own path, I knew I needed his forgiveness, and I wanted to know more of who God was and the purposes he had for me.

Maybe, just maybe, there was hope beyond my losses after all.

As I walked out of that hospital, I was a different person. I was not simply a washed up athlete with no future, I was created, loved, and accepted by God. As I stopped focusing on what I had lost and started focusing on what God had for me – forgiveness, life, and hope through Jesus (God’s Son) dying for me, I had a renewed zeal for life. And I was ready to see what good things God had in store for me.

Little did I know – there was much good ahead, but it would not come in the way I expected. Instead, it came wrapped in the form of more pain and loss.

Less than two years later, I was married, and three years after that, we welcomed our first child. My health quickly declined and our child began to show signs of complex challenges that no one seemed to be able to make sense of. Doctor after doctor, no answers could be found to my ailments or our son’s growing challenges. Those challenges began to dominate every part of life, my health continued to decline, we carried the stress of my husbands 24/7 on-call job as a trauma consultant, we welcomed three more children into our family, and I endured five subsequent ankle surgeries to enable me to walk as long as possible. Needless to say – we were in crisis.

After more than a dozen doctors, we finally received an answer. I was being plagued by Chronic Lyme Disease, ever since being bit by a tick in my younger years. And within that year, doctors connected the chronic ailments of all four of our children to the fact that I had passed on my active Lyme Disease through gestation. Our entire family was sick with a difficult to treat illness, our son was struggling with severe challenges, I was struggling to function through my flu-like symptoms, and my husband was in and out of surgeries day and night, leaving me to fend for myself through nearly unbearable circumstances.

Once again, I was in search of hope in and beyond the trials that threatened to destroy me and my family. I believed God was in control of the details of my life and that somehow he had a good purpose in all that he was allowing, but I couldn’t make sense of why he would allow so much pain and suffering. Didn’t he want to give me good gifts? Didn’t he love me?

In that place of desperation, I searched the bible (God’s words to us) for answers. As I did, I began to write and share what I was learning online – honestly and openly in the rawness of my pain and desperate search for hope. To my surprise, the response was overwhelming and one thing became clear – I wasn’t alone in my suffering, and I certainly wasn’t alone in my search for answers within it.

God began to open my eyes to see that my life isn’t just about me and the hope I was searching for wasn’t to be found in better circumstances or having everything I desired. Instead, it was found in knowing God and finding true hope and joy in Jesus and all that he has for me done for me. I might lose everything in this world – but nothing and no one could take that from me. Instead of giving me what I thought would make me happy or taking way what I thought was the problem, God began to change me instead and show me that he had all that I needed. It was the hope in and beyond my suffering that I was desperate to find.

Over that year, as I continued to write, an opportunity came to publish what I had been learning and sharing through my trials. I teamed up with a dear friend (Kristen Wetherell, who also dealt with chronic illness), and I began to write a thirty day devotional titled “Hope When It Hurts: Thirty Biblical Reflections to Help you Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering”. In it, I face the realities of suffering head on – not shying away from the vast array of ripple effects that it has on our lives. Whether it be loneliness, grief, resentment, loss, anxiety, fear, or an identity crisis, pain leaves its mark one way or another, yet we are never hopeless when we find the hope, healing, and strength of Jesus within it.

After two years of writing and editing, Hope When It Hurts was published in 2017 and has gone on to sell over 45,000 copies and counting. That launched the online ministry of Hope When Hurts to thousands of followers, as well as a follow up book written by my husband (Jeff) and I on the topic of finding hope in our marriage when we face the storms of life, titled “Together Through the Storms: Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts.”

Although my trials are far from over and the pain I’ve endured has left countless scars, I’m confident that none of it is being wasted. Was it the path I expected? Not at all. But does God had good purposes in it? Yes, without a doubt.

Most of us will experience a time when life doesn’t go as we planned or envisioned. But as I’ve learned (and continue to learn), that the losses and redirections we face in life don’t need to leave us hopeless. Instead, they can point us to a greater hope beyond what this life has to offer – knowing and following God, who offers us forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus and who has uniquely created us for purposes beyond what we may see or understand in the moment.

Instead of my pain destroying me, it has made me stronger because it’s led me to find my strength in Jesus, rather than myself. Instead of my circumstances defining me, they have led me to find my identity in a God who loves me and has good in store for me – even if it comes in the most unexpected ways. Instead of my losses leaving me hopeless, they have led me to find a hope that cannot be lost or taken. And through it all, I have been given the privilege of encouraging tens of thousands to not lose hope in their own sufferings. Though I certainly wouldn’t want to relive any of it, I also wouldn’t change it. Because I have found a greater hope, identity, peace, and joy as a result – even when, especially when – life hurts.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I love the craft of writing in a way of storytelling – connecting with people in down-to-earth ways as if I’m on this journey with them. When I write, I share personally, but in a way that enables the reader to feel less alone in their own circumstances, rather than focused on mine. But getting to that point has taken practice and honing the craft of writing, sharing in a way that is honest, warm and inviting, and practically helpful as if we’re sitting across from each other with a cup of coffee or tea. Because the reality is, none of us have it all together or figured out. Therefore, we’re better off being able to learn alongside one another in community, even if through the pages of a book.

All that to say, writing hasn’t always been easy. Between dealing with chronic illness on a daily basis, having a special needs child, and raising four children, I rarely have the luxury of writing or preparing a talk in silence. Instead of that being hindrance, I’ve worked hard to see that as helping me write from a place of reality, not curated from a place of unrealistic perfection. Life is messy – despite how hard we work to make ourselves appear otherwise. Therefore, I’ve learned along the way that deep down, people want to know they aren’t alone in their mess. They want to be free to admit life isn’t perfect. They want to feel less alone in their chaos. Because of that, my hope is that the ministry and work of Hope When It Hurts will be that encouragement to others.

The publishing world, however, has changed a lot over the years with self-publishing flooding the shelves and the constant change of social media making it more difficult for books to be seen. Instead of publishers marketing and promoting, more is placed on the author’s shoulders, which makes for a tricky line to walk – trying to promote your book or brand, while trying to not come across as though you are just promoting yourself. Over the years, I’ve grown in navigating that line carefully, but it remains a challenge in this constantly changing culture of social media and information overload.

But the truth remains nonetheless – everyone faces challenges and trials at some point in life, and therefore, there is always a place to encourage others to find hope in their suffering.

Lastly, on this journey, I’m learning that to do anything in a public manner is to open yourself up to critics and the unkind words of others, especially you share personally. So I’m learning once again that my identity can’t be in what people think of me, my writing, or what I can offer, but in the truth of who God made me to be and trust that he will use my story and the gifts he’s given me regardless. The more I believe that, the less I’m bothered by the unhelpful words of others and the more motivated I am to share the truth and encouragement that so many desperately need. My hope is that the world will not come to know more of me through my writing but to come to know the hope of Jesus through the story he has been writing in my life.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Some of my favorite places to see in our area are some of the most well-known and desirable places to visit. Some of those would be the Garden of The Gods, a drive up to the top of Pikes Peak, a hike through the colorful paint mines, and some of the well known monuments in the Colorado area, such as the Black Canyon, Colorado National Monument, the Great Sand Dunes, and the Royal Gorge Bridge. And of course, there’s always the stress-relief and fun of horseback riding in the summer and skiing or snowboarding in the winter months. For food and entertainment, I’d enjoy a night at the Boot Barn for live music and dinner, or the unique atmosphere of the Rabbit Room underground in downtown Colorado Springs, or high tea at the Miramont Castle. There’s no shortage of incredible places to see and things to do in or around the beautiful area of Colorado Springs.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
More than anything, I owe everything Jesus Christ. But he has also provided incredible support through my husband who has faithfully stuck by my side, my parents who never gave up on me through many painful years, and my in-laws and countless friends, family, and church community who have prayed for, encouraged, and supported us in many practical ways. Lastly, I’m incredibly grateful for Carl Laferton, my editor from The Good Book Company, who has challenged me, made me a better writer, and has become a dear friend along the way.

Website: Setapart.net

Instagram: @Sarahpwalton

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-walton-a44615152/

Twitter: @Swalts14

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarah.walton.543 and @hopewhenithurts

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/14swalts

Other: www.hopewhenithurts.com www.togetherthroughthestorms.com

Image Credits
Erin Gilmore

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutColorado is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.