Throughout the world, women find themselves in a constant battle of not feeling good enough. Whether they work outside the home full-time or part-time, or whether they are stay-at-home moms, they sometimes feel that all the things they do go unnoticed.
Sarah Keeling used her desire to empower women, along with reminding others that God is always in control, to start the T-shirt company Heart Work Tees.
She grew up in Waco and met her husband, Atascosa County rancher Ty Keeling at Texas A&M University. They lived in Pleasanton for approximately 10 years and moved to Boerne two years ago. Ty now manages a ranch just north of Boerne. They have one son, 5-year-old Mack who Sarah describes as high-energy and lots of fun.
In 2008, Sarah was employed at a mental health clinic in Jourdanton. It was during that time that she began experiencing health problems. She also later worked at San Antonio College in the counseling department.
In 2009, she was diagnosed with auto-immune disease, However, since doctors could not exactly pinpoint what specific disease she had, Sarah was told she had connective tissue disorder.
She became pregnant that year and in the fall of 2010, the Keelings’ son Mack was born.
“Mack was in the NICU (neo-natal intensive-care unit) for a week. He had air pockets in the lungs and was in an oxygen tent for 24 hours. He had respiratory distress and stayed for a long time,” said Sarah.
Once they got home, Mack suffered from gastric reflux.
“He was inconsolable. He got a lot better, once he was on the right medicine and right formula. We were exhausted,” said Sarah. “He outgrew the food allergies.”
During those difficult nights, Sarah’s mother-inlaw Marinan Keeling and Elva, whom she described as a wonderful lady from their church Cowboy Fellowship, assisted. They each took a shift taking care of Mack so that the Keelings could get some much-needed rest. Families also stopped by and brought food.
Sarah questioned what her neighbors must have thought, seeing them walk- ing around in the middle of the night to calm Mack down.
“We were desperate,” said Sarah.
The difficult times continued, as Ty’s ranching job remained uncertain.
“They wanted to stop crossing the cattle in Mexico,” said Sarah. “They ended up hiring him back, so he partnered with the owner and he works with the same people. However, that day we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Following Mack’s birth, as with many with autoimmune disease, Sarah went through a flare.
“I’d pick up a lot of stuff, because my immune system was compromised. I had a really bad UTI, strep, and a bad sinus infection. I took a ton of antibiotics and then I was on steroids. It was a domino effect. I ended up with adrenal fatigue and thyroid problems.”
Sarah learned she had underactive thyroid and takes medicine for it.
“My face was swollen. I was in pain and Tylenol didn’t help- it is hard to describe.”
It took a long time for the Keelings to be comfortable with pregnancy again.
“I thought all was fine with the pregnancy. I had been working on Heart Work Tees and designing the Tees. We officially launched in November 2014,” said Sarah.
She attended a MOPS (Mother of Pre-Schoolers) Market to sell her shirts and three days later, she found out that her unborn baby had died.
“It was hard, it would be hard no matter what. We thought of what we had been through before. We had been really excited about the pregnancy.”
“That day, when I went into the doctor, Ty was at the ranch. My mom was with Mack. I couldn’t get a hold of Ty for a couple of hours. I ended up missing the doctor’s call. The next day was Friday- and I thought I guess I’m not having a DNC.”
Sarah’s mother had to return to Waco and her grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, was not doing well.
“They wanted me to go to the ER. We packed up and Ty dropped me off at the hospital,” said Sarah.
Mack stayed with grandparents and it was hard for Sarah, being alone.
Her friend recommended a CD of Scriptures set to music, Seed Family Worship.
“We used to play it for Mack before we went to bed, it was really for him. Then I remembered that it might be good to listen to. It might help me. They take Bible verses and they are made for the whole family.”
Sarah said she was reminded in her moment of pain of Isaiah 26: 3-4, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.”
Sarah said, “I felt peace. It reminded me God is in control. We can have peace even when we are going through hard times.”
Although those with chronic illness have their good days and bad days, Sarah said she has recently improved exponentially.
“I still have to be careful, but it is a lot better. My levels are good now”
She is on a strict diet and ended up going to an allergist.
More on Heart Work Tees
“It is kind of crazy, but fun. We just moved here in March and it took a few months to get settled. We were invited to a book club,” said Sarah.
The summer of 2014, she read, “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are,” by Ann Voskamp and was inspired. The premise of the book is that one can have joy, even when it might be a challenge. The book encourages readers to keep a gratitude journal.
“Reading it did help me. There is a whole chapter about service. We also get service from joy. I also read through one of her blog posts and she publicized this project with the Seed Company. I first heard about it through her. I read the chapter and I wanted to do something to help women globally, but I didn’t know what it was,” Sarah said.
She had the idea of starting a T-shirt business for a few years and reading an article about the “Esther Cluster” further motivated her to sell T-shirts and donate the proceeds to the project.
As the Seed Company’s web site explains, for many groups in Ethiopia, women are considered possessions, with little more rights than cattle.
“Oral Bible Storytelling is a proven method of facilitating transformative impact in this part of the country. The Esther Project will present Jesus to these communities through women.”
“One of the issues that God’s Word impacts positively is treatment of women. Traditionally, older people are highly respected. However, even with modern-day trends toward equality, women hold a much less prominent position than men.”
“They learn public speaking. We are empowering women in areas where they don’t have anything,” said Sarah.
Women are trained in how to craft Scripture stories and then train others.
“This project will be considered successful when women who’ve heard the stories begin to view themselves as people of value to God and to their families.”
“I am not a graphic designer. I am a counselor. I had a lot of ideas and a friend who was trying to start a creative consulting firm helped me. So, starting Heart Work Tees was perfect. She used me as a guinea pig,” said Sarah.
Among Sarah’s shirts with biblical quotes, she also made a laundry slayer T-shirt.
“I really do wear it all the time. It started with that.”
When she was looking for a verse which really spoke to her, she thought of Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”
Said Sarah, “I thought of how women do a lot of things service-wise that go overlooked. They don’t receive the credit. They feel like no one sees how hard they are working. It all matters. That is where Heart Work Tees came from.
Sarah has set a goal of $5,000 for the Seed Company. So far, she has raised $1,600.
She especially credits her husband Ty for being completely supportive when she first had the dream of Heart Work Tees.
“He said, you should do this, which was awesome. He has been my biggest supporter,” said Sarah.
“Alot of people go through hard things, I want them to know that God loves us, you can have hope and peace. That is what spoke to me. I had the Bible and it was really comforting. I want those people in other countries to have it, in their own language.”
To order, visit www.heartworktees.com or find Heart Work Tees on Facebook.