Sarah is a wife, mother, Mimsy, pastor’s teammate, writer, business owner, and friend. She serves with her husband, Ray Odom, as the pastoral team at Lighthouse of Living Faith located in the Copeland community of Millry, AL. She loves spending time with her grandson, Clemens. They share many adventures together. Her story is not special, but it is hers to tell.
ello, my name is Sarah Elizabeth Bennett Odom, Ph.D. Kind of a long name, right? Yet each part of my name is special and means something to me. Each tells a story: some happy, others sad. Yet, it is my story, for which I am eternally grateful to God. My mom and dad named me Sarah after my paternal grandmother, and my mom insisted on Elizabeth instead of my grandmother’s middle name – Emma. While I think it is important and an honor to have family names, I do appreciate the fact my mom wanted me to be unique. Bennett is my dad’s surname. I cherish it, because his name is one of the only things I remember he ever gave me. Odom is my husband’s surname, and I’ve carried his name longer than my maiden name. Finally, the title that follows my name came from years of struggles and endurance. While I never expect people to address me using it, I do like to add it to the end of my name. It’s part of who I am and how God has blessed me.
If you don’t know me, you probably have no idea the struggles I have dealt with in life. Likewise, you would likely have no idea the victories I have won. Loss is not a pleasant word, unless you are talking about weight loss. It speaks of pain, anguish, and sorrow. Yet, early in my life, I experienced loss – great loss. At the age of 4 (almost 5), I witnessed the death of my father. It is a memory I can never erase.
But life has a way of thrusting us forward, and that we did. My mom, sister, and I started on a new journey. It was a journey of toughness, yet we survived. I learned many skills from my mother, and they continue to help me be a better person today. For her girls, she gathered up all the strength she had, and she persevered. She was resilient, and as a result, her daughters learned to be as well. We were never rich, yet we were never in dire need of shelter, clothing, or food. We were pretty much normal for our area, with the exception of missing our dad. And even in this circumstance, there were other families I knew who had experienced loss too.
My mom raised us without a television in the house for many years, so I grew up reading. I loved to read so very much. I doubt there is a Nancy Drew book I haven’t read, and so many more. My mom was selective, but she always made sure I had a book to read. I love her so very much for nurturing the love to read in me. In my mind, I thought, “One day, I’m going to be a writer.” Thanks to my mom, I have self published several children’s books and a few inspirational books. Currently, I am publishing a 3-part series of devotionals on women of the Bible. It’s all because of my mom.
Through the school years, I was not popular, but I was a dedicated student. In 1987, I graduated as valedictorian of my senior class. It was a huge honor. I also married in my senior year. A soldier came into my life, and I thought I had to have a lifetime with him if nothing else in the world ever happened. So, I left scholarships, family, friends, and dreams of my past behind. I married Ray Odom, and we left for Fort Campbell, KY.
God blessed Ray and me with two beautiful baby boys while Ray was stationed at Ft. Campbell. And after he completed eight years in the U.S. Army (three of which I spent with him), Ray decided we needed to come home. Andrew was almost two, and Gideon was only six months old. Ray and I re-acclimated to home, and we started our new journey in life.
Eight years later, I experienced the most horrific loss I have ever had to deal with in my life. While Ray and I were taking our boys to spend the night with some friends as we went on to a meeting, we were involved in an accident. Instantly, my oldest son Andrew (only 9) was taken from my arms forever. This became a truly defining moment in my life. I prayed as hard as I have ever prayed in my life for God to spare his life, and yet it seemed the heavens were brass that day. I felt like I would never breathe again.
Each day became a struggle to be the wife and mother I needed to be. I was also a science teacher, and many children depended on me. They also needed me. I battled daily with the urge to sink into depression. While many people choose to fall into depression or use drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors to deal with pain, I chose two things – work and food. In many ways, I became addicted to both. Now, hard work never really killed anyone, but it certainly can kill relationships if you are never available to those who love you. In hindsight, I realize my addiction to work in order to push my thoughts of depression far into the back of my mind likely caused much pain to my husband and my son. Those are days I cannot recover.
I also gained a large amount of weight during this time, and I will admit, I have never fully recovered from this addiction. I pray I will, but I still resort to food in times of needing comfort. So in a different way, I do understand the power of addiction. When I feel extremely stressed or working to meet an impending deadline, I still reach for sweets to help me meet my need of comfort. The struggle is real.
During my days of struggling with Andrew’s death, I became angry. At one point I realized my anger was becoming destructive in my relationships with my family, particularly my husband. So I decided to perform an intervention on myself. I had a BS in secondary education I had obtained while my kids were still very young, and I had taught science for several years. But I decided to go back to school and complete an MS. I did, and then a Ph.D. I went on to complete a MEd and an MA. I really fell into study and work; I became obsessed with it. I finally had to stop. I was quickly becoming the perpetual student with no life outside of work and graduate school.
Today, I continue to struggle with loss. Andrew’s death left me filled with fear of losing my other son, Gideon. And I struggle many days worrying about his safety, and now the safety of my grandson, Clemens. But there is not a doubt in my mind God loves me. He loves me deeply, and He has always carried me and helped me through all my struggles with loss. While others likely judged me, God sent me encouragement. He sent me handfuls of purpose. He used my mistakes and my inability to cope to help me build strong character and a wealth of knowledge.
I gave my heart to the Lord early in my life. I don’t remember my exact age, but by 12 years old, I had completely established in my heart I would serve God forever. I love the life I have with my family, and as flawed as I may be, I know God has richly blessed me more than I could ever express. I feel a calling to give back using the talents and gifts God has given to me. I am very appreciative of every opportunity God sends my way to share His Son and to work for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Loss comes to humans in a number of ways. Our stories are all likely different, but with similarities. It is inevitable for us to live our lives fully and never experience loss. However, it is with great hope and strong faith I tell you no matter what loss you may experience in life, God is more than able to sustain you. And believe it or not, you can actually be joyful again. It is my prayer you find joy in Christ.