Lessons from Dad

On Grey’s Anatomy she plays a character of faith. In real life her faith is important too. Not surprising for a pastor’s daughter.

By Sarah Drew, Los Angeles, California

As appeared in

Fear. It can hit when you least expect it. When everything in your life is going great, when your dreams are being fulfilled, when you’ve become what you had hoped to become, even when you’re a person of faith and used to calling on that faith and leaning on it.

That’s what happened to me not long ago. Even though I chose the notoriously difficult profession of acting, I’d been fortunate in my career. I was cast in a professional production right out of college. Since then I’d had roles in a Broadway play, television and movies.

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At last I’d landed a regular recurring role on one of America’s most popular TV series, Grey’s Anatomy, and my husband, Peter, and I, after 10 years of marriage, were expecting our first child. I should have been on top of the world.

I wasn’t. My marriage was solid, I loved my job, but I was terrified, absolutely terrified, by the prospect of parenthood. What if I turned out to be an awful mom? It would be hard–if not impossible–to live up to the example set by my own parents.

What was I thinking, bringing an innocent child into this world where so much is broken? What if I couldn’t cope with losing my freedom? Being a parent means being responsible for another life. All my worries might have been irrational, but the fear was real. And it was crushing me.

My character on Grey’s Anatomy, April Kepner, and I have one big thing in common: We both take our faith very seriously. We pray, we read the Bible, we try to live our beliefs.

For me there’s also a personal side to it. My dad is a Presbyterian minister, and when I really need help, when I’m struggling, I turn to him. I have since childhood.

Forget those clichés of the wild, rebellious preacher’s kid. My brother and I weren’t like that, and I give the credit to our parents.

You’re in a fishbowl when you’re sitting in the pew and your dad’s in the pulpit, but our parents never force-fed us religion. They let us find our own way to God. It wasn’t the sermons Dad preached that made the difference. It was how he lived them.

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If it hadn’t been for him and Mom showing me how much they loved me, I wouldn’t have made it through elementary school. Dad was serving a church on Long Island then. I went to a couple of different schools, but in every place, the same thing happened: I just couldn’t make friends.

I wanted so badly to be liked. But my desperation, combined with my awkwardness, was the kiss of death in the schoolyard.

Sometimes mean girls picked on me. More often, I was left out, ignored, as if I weren’t worthy of interest, which is its own particular kind of loneliness. The sad thing was, I was intensely aware of social interactions.

In fourth grade, Mom, who’s a science teacher, tried to get me to learn to take good notes in class. My notes had nothing to do with what the teacher said. They were all about my classmates–who sat together, what they talked about, which girls seemed closer, which ones had a falling out.