Sarah Garvey is one of our newest writers on The Austin Stone Story Team. We came to know Sarah when when told her story last year. This week's story Despite My Weakness was Sarah's first assignment with Story Team, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions about it.
Story Team: This story happens to be your first with Story Team. Did you feel any pressure as you planned your approach to the story?
Sarah Garvey: Absolutely! I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to Megan and Story Team. I felt unqualified to be the one to write her story. I felt unqualified to glorify God through this process. I’ve read every story written by the Story Team since I started attending the Austin Stone, and I am always blown away by the vulnerability of the person, and the way that vulnerability points to the love and sovereignty of God. Since it was my first story, I didn’t have any idea how much of a team effort this process really is so I was more nervous than I needed to be. The great thing about our process is that the writer is only a small part. I was able to relax more and more each step of the way as I realized that God has created this talented group of people who truly seek to glorify his name. When you have a team of people like that, you begin to see that you are qualified because you aren’t alone.
What made the story personal for you?
Where to begin? I immediately felt a personal connection to this story when I read the backstory Megan gave. The way she wrote about longing for heaven had me in tears. I have never met anyone else who could articulate so perfectly something that I have been feeling. When we met for the first time over coffee, I felt that connection again. Though our life circumstances and struggles are different, Megan and I have a lot in common when it comes to the emotional and relational parts of her story. So much of her story resonated with me. When I was going through the process of transcribing the interview, I had at least 1,500 words of straight quotes that I wanted to use in an 800 word story! It was brutal narrowing that down, but I feel like the Holy Spirit was clear about which ones needed to be used in the story. I have the rest in a document on my computer, and I have gone back and read over them again when I need encouragement or a reminder that I am not alone.
How do you encourage and engage your subjects to be open and vulnerable with you? What were some of the questions you came up with that were specific to Megan’s story?
In my experience, mainly just in life, I have found that the best way to show that you are trustworthy and safe for someone to open up to is to be vulnerable yourself. I wanted Megan to know that I have been in her position. I told my story with the Story Team a little over a year ago so I know how scary it can be from that seat. I also wanted Megan to know just how her backstory that she wrote had resonated with me. I shared some of my own story with her, and we had this amazing moment of realizing that despite completely different circumstances, we share a lot of the same struggles and fears. I had no doubt that Megan wouldn’t hesitate to be vulnerable when the interview time came, but I know that making that connection made me a better interviewer, and ultimately, a better writer for her.
Coming up with questions was easier than I expected. There was just so much that I wanted to know about Megan and her journey. One of the first questions I wrote was about longing for heaven. Specifically, I asked how Revelation 21:4 resonated with her. In my own journey, I have held tight to the promise of no more mourning and crying. For Megan, it was about the promise of no more pain. What beautiful promises! I also wanted to make a point of commenting on the fact that she had self-titled her backstory “Worthiness in Weakness,” which I love more than I can express. She drew that specifically from 2 Corinthians 12:9, and I wanted to really dive into how her definition of worth changed since her diagnosis. Her response to that question blew me away, and it resulted in one of my favorite parts of her story. The last question I asked her was if there was one truth from her journey that she wanted to share, and her response ended up being the very last quote of the story. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have gone back and read her quote. What I love so much is that she spoke to the truth that I think most people forget—that it really is okay to not be okay because we have a God who is so much better.
How did you go about crafting the story after the interview? Did you write immediately or let thoughts sit for a few days first?
My first instinct was to go home right after the interview and write. That was not a good plan. As soon as I sat down and started listening to the almost two hour interview, I realized that I needed some distance. I needed some time to process and pray. I took two days away and prayed for the Holy Spirit to overcome my insecurities and direct my hands and mind as I prepared to write. When I tried again, I felt renewed. Directed. It was such a difference! I realized that trying to sit down and write it the night of the interview meant I was leaving God out of the equation. I hadn’t given him any time to move or guide me. The second go-around, I started the process with prayer and continued to pray at many points along the way. It became very clear which direction he wanted the story to take, and ultimately, I am awed by the end result. What a privilege this has been!
What is your biggest challenge as a writer, and how do you overcome that challenge?
I’m not sure I can pick just one! I write a lot as a personal hobby, but this is first time that I have written something knowing that it would be read by more than just me, my husband, and maybe a friend or two. I spent a lot of time in the beginning really worried about my shortcomings. I’m not a journalist. I mainly write fiction novels. I kept coming up with every reason why I was completely unqualified for this beautiful assignment. As I spoke with the team along the way, I began to really see that it didn’t matter that I felt unqualified. They were there to support and guide me. No way was anyone going to let something be published that wasn’t theologically sound or proofread. As I felt myself relax, I realized that my feelings of inadequacy were completely discounting God. As counterintuitive as it seemed to me, I realized that wallowing in my insecurities was nothing more than letting my ego come before God. Instead of trusting him, I was discounting myself. I feel so sure that God called me to this team, and if that’s the case, how can I not trust him to walk through every step of the process at my side? Thankfully, God is so sweet and so caring that he reminded me repeatedly of this truth.
What is something you learned about yourself as a storyteller from this story?
Apparently, I have a really hard time with meeting word counts! I think my first draft was 300 words over. Initially, I struggled to pick one message and stick to it because I wanted to tell Megan’s entire life story! This was a new challenge for me because the foundation of my English writing degree was writing 20, 30, 40 page papers. As a fiction writer, my novels end up somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 words, which is roughly 400-550 pages. Writing a deep but complete story in a short format is difficult but incredibly rewarding. My favorite thing I learned about myself in this process is just how much I love working with a team. Editors are a gift from God.
Feature image by Cassie Robison