Sarah Drew: Lessons from Dad

Sarah Drew: Lessons from Dad

Grey’s Anatomy 's Sarah Drew plays a person of faith; she values her real-life faith too.

Actress Sarah Drew of Grey's Anatomy

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.

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.

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.

Our family had a New Year’s tradition of each writing a letter to God. We’d thank him for everything he’d given us the year before and ask his help with whatever we were worried about in the year to come. Every year my letter ended with the same prayer: Dear Lord, please send me a friend. Just one.

The only time I felt good about myself was onstage. I don’t even remember when I started acting, but I’ll never forget how incredible it felt to be acting a role, no matter how small, in a school play. I did community theater too.

Onstage I wasn’t the girl with no friends, stuck on the outside looking in. I could be someone totally different. Someone in the center of the action. Someone brave and joyous and free.

Like Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire (a favorite movie in our house) when he says, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” That’s what acting was for me.

Mom and Dad came to every one of my shows. Even though teaching kept her busy, my mom worked the stage crew in community theater, just to support me. She’s got sweatshirts from every show we did together.

My parents drove hundreds of miles to see me in college plays. I think they sat through my first professional production, Romeo and Juliet, at least 15 times, and they brought their friends too. “You have a God-given gift,” Dad said. “You need to honor that.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The summer before eighth grade I signed up to go to a Christian sleepaway camp on Martha’s Vineyard. After all my rejections at school, I was gun shy about meeting new people, but this sounded okay because I wasn’t going alone. Dad would be there that first night, preaching to the group.

We dropped off my stuff at the bunkhouse, and everybody went to hear Dad speak. He was good. He knew how to capture a crowd, even a group of teenagers. But then it was time for him to leave. I was petrified about going back to the bunkhouse on my own. All those girls I didn’t know.

“Daddy, don’t leave,” I pleaded, bursting into tears. “I’m going to be so lonely here. It’ll be just like school. What’s wrong with me?”

Dad held me close and then he prayed for me. In that same voice I’d heard pray for the congregation, the sick, the suffering, people in desperate situations, here he was praying just for me. “Lord, bring Sarah a friend. Just one friend.”

Wouldn’t you know it? I went back to the bunkhouse and there were two girls sitting by the door. “Hey, wanna hang out with us?” they said. We were inseparable during the rest of camp.

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