Spring’s 2020 Stunningly Strong Woman: Sarah Bush

Spring 2020 March/April/May

I’m excited about the Spring’s Stunningly Strong woman, Sarah Bush. Her story resonated with me on so many different levels. When we were talking I felt like we had both uttered the same exact words throughout the course of our lives and if you are a woman I know there will be parts that will speak to you as well. 

Sarah, a pastor’s daughter, homeschooled and slightly awkward, by her own admission, decided after high school to attend Bible College a few hours away from her small Ohio town. It was 1997 and the first week of orientation when Sarah met a boy named Matt. “It was a real-life movie moment,” she said, describing the first time she and Matt saw each other from a distance, it was then that she knew “he was the one.”  “Being homeschooled I never really dated and wasn’t very sure of myself around guys, but it was the most comfortable thing in the world to talk to him. We instantly became best friends.” And they remained friends for the first few months of school since Matt was dating someone from his hometown in Indiana, but a short while later Matt broke up with his hometown girlfriend and he and Sarah became an “official couple”. They married in 1999 after graduation from Bible College and Sarah thought her fairytale had just begun, but the marriage got off to an incredibly rocky start.

Sarah described the first several years of the marriage as being hell on earth. “I had been told my whole life that you should save yourself for marriage, and if you did God would bless you and your wedding night would amazing. No one in our church talked about sex or what to expect as a newlywed, as you can imagine, my hopes and my reality were not the same. It was not magical for me, it wasn’t wonderful for him; we had expectations that weren’t met that night and because of that it really set a tone for the next several years. We were both so disappointed with the sex aspect of marriage that the first two years it was more of a chore.” She went on to describe those first years of marriage as being riddled with quiet guilt on her part as she stuffed all her feelings deep down while Matt was explosive. “Who hates being married the first year? Me. I did. I really thought I had made the worst mistake of my life.” “We were living in public like everything was okay while fighting behind closed doors.  We were leading from a very unhealthy place.

Adding to the unmet expectations of intimacy within the marriage, Matt and Sarah were also struggling with the disappointment of not working on staff in full-time ministry after graduation. “We had this idea that once we graduated we would be on staff at my parent’s church, but that is not how it played out. We worked full time “secular jobs” and lead the youth ministry as volunteer youth pastors. We sustained that lifestyle for seven years and even started a family during that time, but it was hard especially since Matt was working 3rd shift and I was working a regular 9-5.”

In 2007 Matt was offered a job in Pensacola, Florida, they went all in and made the move from everything that felt familiar, leaving Sarah’s home state of Ohio the place they met, married and started their family. Once they got settled and started attending a local church both her and Matt’s passion for leading people was recognized. They BECAME the couple they desperately needed at the beginning of their marriage, their hope was that some of the unrealistic expectations that young couples had would be diminished and in turn, give a healthier start to marriages.  Sarah began speaking into the lives of engaged women, giving them godly advice and counsel coupled with candid honesty, debunking fairytale myths with humor and compassion about what marriage was like. She became the voice of reality that she didn’t have as a young wife but desperately needed. God began to heal all the places of pain that Matt & Sarah experienced in the first couple of years.

“We really had a great life in Florida and God gave me the opportunity to start a virtual assistant business before that type of work was “sexy.” Life was really good, but it became routine. In spite of the wealth, cars and the house, there was still an aching in my heart to be in full time ministry, but there was also a contradiction of thinking who am I to complain I have all the things we ever wanted? I battled feelings of sadness that I would never be in ministry. I felt like I was lost and forgotten even though I was doing things I loved and involved at church, it just didn’t fulfill me. I had reached a place in my life thinking this is all I will ever do. ”

As Sarah fought the internal war between being content and wanting more she began to glean from other people in ministry like Chris Cain. Listening to her preach really ignited a fire within Sarah’s soul so much that she attended a women’s conference where Chris was speaking. Back in Florida, she continued to listen to podcast and sermons from people that had the same passions as she did. It was in 2008 while scrolling through twitter she saw something Steven Furtick posted and it really struck a chord with her. “I started listening to his podcast and I had moments of encountering God in my home that felt like I was at the altar, except it was while standing at my sink doing dishes. One sermon I listened to over and over was ‘Where Dreams Go to Die.’ I had asked Matt on several occasions to listen to it, but he wouldn’t. He just didn’t want to hear a guy his age that had a church and was successful, because honestly, that was supposed to be our life, and it wasn’t. Matt just wanted to keep his head down, be wealthy and serve his family. He felt like if he couldn’t be successful at ministry he would be successful somewhere else.”

It wasn’t until an early morning, when Matt asked Sarah to put something on the iPod while he showered that she saw an opportunity for him to listen to Pastor Steven. “I put on one of the sermons I had listened to, and then bolted out of the house. I knew the message was 47 minutes and I drove around praying that Matt would really hear what was being said. I came back to the house 48 minutes later wondering what he was going to say; I walked into the bathroom and Matt was red-faced from crying He said to me,  “Sarah, before I got in the shower I told God that there has to be for my life than a 401K and football.” That was the moment that recharged Matt’s spirit, like a battery getting a jump-start.

Instead of going to the movies for date nights, they started watching sermons and dreaming about ministry and allowing the Lord to use their gifts. They began watching Elevation Church and for a year tithed to both Elevation and their home church. “During that time, we feel in love with Elevation and we thought Oh, this is just a phase and to prove it, we’ll go visit the church in Charlotte. After all, everything is better from afar. We went and visited and it wasn’t as great as we thought, it was better. We came back to Florida, still attended our home church, and still served as volunteers but the whole time we felt like we were wearing an uncomfortable pair of jeans. It just didn’t fit. On a Sunday morning while we were in worship Matt turned to me with tears running down his cheeks and said, “You know what we need to do? We need to quit our jobs, cash in our 401k’s and move to Charlotte. And without question that is what we did. In 2011 we packed up and moved. We didn’t have any jobs lined up but we had said that we could tell our kids how to live by faith, or we could take them on an adventure and show them.”

When Matt and Sarah moved to Charlotte, Elevation wasn’t the mega church it is today, in fact there were only 32 people on staff at the time and they were not part of that number. The couple volunteered 40 hours a week, living off their cashed-in 401k’s and while the church was hiring, it seemed that nothing was a great fit for them. “I found myself spiraling back to the beginning of our marriage when I thought I had made a mistake. We were serving with campus pastors, yet we weren’t good enough to pastor. That’s how I was looking at it from the natural. Great, I thought, we went and made another bad choice and dragged our kids into it with us this time. Nothing at the church seemed to work out but we did have incredible secular job opportunities present themselves to us. Looking back at that time in our lives, we were learning what it was like to be in ministry without being a pastor. “

Matt’s new job was only eight miles from home but his commute was an hour and a half, so they started praying something closer would open up, that prayer was answered in a way that what Sarah says was weird and unexpected. “It was the day after we asked God to have something open up closer to our house, Matt came home and said his current company had been sold and that he no longer had a job, but we also needed to move to San Francisco because the buying company wanted to keep Matt as an employee.”

“At first it was a no from us, then we said, ‘God you didn’t call us to Elevation, you called us to the Kingdom. If we want you to take our lives and use us, then we have to walk that out. It was the hardest “yes” we have ever given. In 2015 we moved to a city that was 95% un-churched. I thought how do we raise kids in a godless place? Is this our mission? Are we missionaries now? I tried to find a job that would fit with the kid’s school schedule since the schools didn’t provide buses I needed to be available for carpool, but no matter where I looked, I couldn’t get a job. I fell into a deep dark depression. I gained 25 pounds, was making poor food choices, I stayed in our condo without AC 24/7 and I started thinking about how I made another bad decision, how I always made bad choices or the wrong choices. The kids were thriving and Matt loved life in Cali but I hated it as much as he loved it, so it drove a wedge between us. I was so mean and angry and bitter.  I would think to myself, he’s out there enjoying life, the kids are in schools that look like a TV set from 90210 and what am I doing? Laundry, making muffins, eating doughnuts? I was miserable. Then one day, about four months after we moved, I was in the shower feeling sorry for myself, and I got so convicted. I heard the Lord say “You are not walking in love, willingness, or your gifting. You are walking in hurt and anger and you need to stop.’ I realized at that moment I wasn’t unhappy because I was in California, I was unhappy because I allowed anger and bitterness to rule my soul. When Matt came home that night I told him that I had been so wrong for how I treated him. I asked for his forgiveness and asked the Lord to forgive and to use me wherever He wanted in whatever capacity He could. I felt such a sweet release and a settling when I gave total surrender to the Lord.”

Because God is always on time, THE VERY NEXT DAY, after Sarah relinquished her will Matt got a call from the HR department at Elevation Church.  He was told ‘I don’t know if you would ever come back, but God has things he needs you to do.’ “I am not taking credit for any of that,” Sarah told me, “but it speaks so loudly that once we surrender our will and ideas, God can actually move on our behalf. If Matt had gotten on staff when we wanted then that would have been our story, and really it would have been a prideful story of ‘Look at us, we moved in faith and everything worked out exactly the way it should have.’ And while that would have been a great story I like this one better because we had to learn, I had to learn that it’s not about where I am, but it’s where God needs me to be so I can be used by Him.”

The Bush family moved back to North Carolina in June of 2016, and Matt became an Associate Campus Pastor for Elevation Church’s Raleigh Campus. “We have fallen in love with this city and the people here. It’s become our mission to find the people that feel like they are forgotten and left out, or think their choices have stopped the hand of God in their lives. We want them to know God’s plan is so perfect even if they have made less than perfect decisions. With Matt being on staff we both have access to broken people. We had to go through brokenness; we had to go through real-life experiences so that God could use us to reach others. I am so

“God has done something so special, He has brought Matt and I closer now, 20 years in, than we have ever been. We’re better spouses to each other, more in love and building a life we’re so proud of. What’s happened in my life, all the decisions and choices have been woven together, God has given me the opportunity to meet people through my business that wouldn’t normally be in church and I’ve been given amazing opportunities to step into the spider webs of their lives, I’m not on staff but I am definitely in full-time ministry.

I had to realize that God doesn’t take away gifts and callings. A calling is a lifetime, but an assignment is over when it’s done and I had been so hyper-focused on my calling, that I missed some assignments. You aren’t called to do just one job you are called to assignments and if you are so concerned about the title and the role of that assignment, you will miss out on what God wants you to do. I’ve never been more fulfilled with the vagueness of what it is going on in my life. I make a significant living without a title, making people’s dreams and visions come to pass, and as long as He keeps me in this assignment, I want to go to bed every night knowing that I did the best job I could. “

As we wrapped our talk I asked Sarah what she would tell her younger self, “If there’s one thing I could tell my 21-year-old self, it would be “Girl, you are way to uptight. Love your man and love him well. Talk about things that no one else will talk about. Be the person that others love to be around and as you grow step into the role of raising up young women in the church. Remind yourself and others that God makes allowances for our choices and in the end uses ALL things for His good.”

Sarah has always been called to be a pastor and communicator and while different assignments in her life have made that look different than what she thought, she realizes now that she has always filled that role to some degree regardless of title. Her love for teaching the Bible and communicating has led to her own podcast Say It, Sarah! Being the CEO of your life and Showing up.  “Businesses run intentionally so why aren’t we doing that with our lives? I have guests that will share about showing up daily, hiding behind our faith, stewardship, why are we failing? I get to interview and talk to leaders in different industries and some days I sit back in awe at all God has done.”

 Say It, Sarah! Is available on all streaming services, you can also follow Sarah on Instagram @imsarahbush and her podcast @sayitsarahshow

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