Chapel speaker shares inspiring story of past struggles

Sarah Thebarge has a unique story. The soft-spoken cancer survivor, Yale graduate and author made her first trip to Texas from Portland, Ore.,  Nov. 6 to share it with students during chapel.

She said, “I missed the day God gave out voices in Heaven.”

Sarah Thebarge speaks with associate professor of music Dr. Mark Humphrey during a question-and-answer session. Thebarge spoke at chapel Nov. 6 and shared her unique story. Leah Bunkers/The Bells

Sarah Thebarge speaks with associate professor of music Dr. Mark Humphrey during a question-and-answer session. Thebarge spoke at chapel Nov. 6 and shared her unique story. Leah Bunkers/The Bells

The distinguishable characteristic had the audience members sitting at the edge of their seats, hanging onto every word that came from the petite woman’s mouth.

Thebarge grew up in an Amish community in Pennsylvania where she constantly struggled to overcome social  expectations that limited her as a woman.

She attended Yale University and graduated with a master’s degree in medicine. Her next stop was Columbia University to pursue a master’s degree in journalism.

While in New York, Thebarge was diagnosed with breast cancer and became very ill. Her lifelong dream of traveling to Africa crumbled apart just as her life seemed to be doing.

In the parking lot of Starbucks, her boyfriend of three years broke up with her.

Thebarge said, “I wish I could’ve driven cancer to Starbucks and told it ‘we’ve had a good run, but this isn’t working out for me anymore.’”

With a broken soul and empty heart, Thebarge thought she was worthless. She bought a one way ticket to Portland, Ore., and landed there with just a suitcase of clothes.

On a train, a Somali girl curled up in Thebarge’s lap. She made eye contact with the mother of five girls who turned out to be refugees. Thebarge got their address and visited a few days later.

She found the family enduring horrible living conditions. The mother dumpster-dived for food. Many meals consisted of moldy bread and ketchup. They had one blanket to share and inadequate clothing for the winter.

Thebarge created a relationship with the Somali family. With the help of her church, she gave them food, clothes and heat. She showed the girls Disney movies.

What Thebarge really wanted to give the girls was an opportunity to go to college. Unable to write a check that large, she began turning the blog she had been keeping about the family’s story into a book called Invisible Children. The proceeds would benefit the girls’ college funds.

Junior marketing major Joy Watson attended chapel and the question-and-answer session with Thebarge.

Watson was most inspired to hear “how Sarah learned to use her past to inspire people.”

She said, “It’s a reminder to not let the past get in the way of the future. God uses the broken.”

Thebarge is passionate about emphasizing the importance of inner beauty in women.

She said, “In fairy tales, women are always waiting to be saved. But they need to save themselves. We need to create our own means.”

Sophomore marketing major Jessica Pitcaithly, loved how “she wanted to change the world. The impact she has had on people’s lives happened in a different way than she planned, but she soon realized what she thought was the worst thing to happen to her turned out to be the best.”

Author: Leah Bunkers

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