Challenges to Feeling Comfort from God

Four Reasons We Don’t Feel Comfort from God, published in July 2015, remains my most popular post.  Nearly every day that post will get several visits.  I’m not sure why.  I am an obscure blogger buried in the internet.  Perhaps the title bubbles up near the top when someone Googles ‘comfort from God.’  I wish I could generate this popularity for my other posts so advertisers for cancer yoga pants and pink ribbon nightshirts would flock to me.  But seriously, I suspect tens of thousands of people trawl (not troll) through the web every day, desperately looking for some comfort, some solace from God.  I have a heart for these people.  On occasion, I am one of them.

As I lurch from one cancer therapy to the next, struggle against one quality-of-life-diminishing side-effect after another, and, consequently, am painfully reminded of my mortality daily…….I MARVEL at the ways God gives me comfort.  I keep a running list in my head of how he meets me more than halfway.  In thinking about these comforts, which are often subtle, I can see why if I am not alert, I may miss them.

  1. I miss the comfort because it does not come according to my timetable.
  2. I miss the comfort from God because it comes through means I take for granted.
  3. I miss the comfort because I do not realize my suffering is an opportunity to serve others.  (The service is the comfort.)
  4. I miss the comfort because I am just too fatigued or lazy to draw on the resources of the church family.

God’s comfort is not according to my timetable

Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer since 2018, there is not a visit to my oncologist since then that I don’t feel like the sword of Damocles hangs over me, ready to drop. In the run up to the appointment, I am always praying for encouraging news about the level of tumor markers or the results of scans.  And then I pray that I would feel God’s presence and that I would have courage to face what is in store as I wait for news. I am follower of Christ, so I know that my relationship with him comes alongside suffering and comfort. None of us are exempt from this reality but when I suffer, I want that comfort on my timetable, not God’s, for that usually requires waiting. I’m tempted to question God’s love because the waiting feels like an answer: “no comfort for you today and maybe never.”

Antidote: In such times I resort to writing.  It is therapeutic to get my complaints and worries down on paper.  This is a practice that I encouraged my clients to do with excellent results.  The benefits of writing down thoughts, feelings, experiences, grievances have been researched and validated repeatedly.  There are biblical precedents for this as well. The authors of Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Lamentations aired their complaints to God.   Read Psalms 42 and 43 for a blueprint on how to record our grievances. And note the end of these Psalms.  End our complaints in remembrance of God’s faithfulness in the past and therefore a hope for the future.  I often do this as an act of faith, even though I don’t always “feel” it.

God’s comfort comes through means I take for granted so it is not recognized as his comfort.

Many times, I ignore the steady stream of God’s comfort coming my way. I’m looking instead for a spectacular deliverance that takes away all the disappointments, dread, and angst that cancer brings.

“God! Where is your comfort?”, I ask as tears well up upon hearing not so encouraging medical news.  Then, upon later reflection, I realize that God’s comfort is always present. David, my husband is always with me, bearing with me the emotional toll of this cancer – a comfort that I assumed as insignificant compared to some dramatic show of comfort from God that would prove he cared about me.  I am the recipient of comfort that comes by way of family, friends, church community, and good medical care.  It is not good to ignore these obvious God-comfort sources just because they lack a spontaneous, spectacular, supernatural intervention. 

Question:  What brings you comfort?  Who brings you comfort?  Can you tie these comforts back to God?   If so, then practice the habit of thanking God out loud, as well as thanking those who are God’s ambassadors of comfort to you.  Do both often.  It will become a habit which will prepare you emotionally and spiritually for when the really hard times come.   You will be blessed and comforted in the process.

God’s comfort can come through my comfort of others

2 Corinthians 1:4

He comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Bible makes it clear that our suffering can act as a refining fire for developing character in us as well as producing benefits for others. Our suffering and subsequent comfort from God gives us street cred in helping those who are suffering likewise.

I am touched when people reach out to me for encouragement and comfort. Many times, these people have a less severe cancer diagnosis and prognosis than I have but cancer is cancer and scares the heck out of anyone regardless of the severity.

For nearly 15 years I spent most of every winter working in the Middle East; teaching and coaching women in the practice of good mental health. These Arab women had very hard lives; harder than I could imagine. However, the moment I disclosed my cancer diagnosis (stage 3 back then) I could sense that my audience was touched and had warmed up to me. It was as if this ‘weathy’ American woman was not so privileged after all. On some level I was included into the fellowship of suffering women. The playing field was leveled, and they expressed encouragement by what I taught.  I was blessed by playing a part in their comfort.

Helping others releases God’s comfort not just for others but for us as well. Helping others triggers the release of “feel good” hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine which gives a mood boost.

‘Dragging myself’ to church brings comfort

The kindness and love of the church family brings tremendous comfort.  This comfort is ordained by God. If we are not a part of a church community we miss out.   Being amongst the fellowship of believers in general, and being prayed for in particular, is one of this life’s spiritual, emotional, and physical means of receiving God’s comfort.

Metastatic cancer treatments offer no cure but rather cancer management with the latest targeted drugs and procedures to prolong life as long as possible.  The disease as well as the side effects of treatments can feel endless. “Whack a mole” is what my husband has coined it. One rough symptom is dealt with and right behind it comes another.  I’m tired, physically.  More seriously, I feel like I am tiring out my church family with frequent prayer requests to address the latest physical trial. I am tempted to stifle the prayer requests, ignore my church community, and rely on ministrations of the medical community to see me through till the end.

This past Sunday and I considered not going to church sporting my newest symptom, Bell’s Palsy. My husband was delivering the sermon, so I ended up going to support him. By the end of the service, I was drawn compelled to ask for prayer by from a couple of people. Instead, eight or nine people gathered around me, laid hands on me, and prayed gently and compassionately.  A flood gate of tears was opened but by the end I marched to my car with a lighter step than I had had for a while.

The elephant in this blog post

What happens when comfort gives way to death which we know happens a lot with cancer? Again, depending on your confidence in the reality of the risen Christ, there is yet an ultimate comfort. It’s a tough one to internalize but nonetheless it is expressed too many times in the New Testament to be ignored and its crucial to living faithfully in Christ during this life.   This life is not all there is.  We must think of and dwell on this.  But be warned!  if you think or talk too much of eternal life or heaven or resurrection you will be dismissed as a flake or someone who has their heads in the clouds. Don’t be dissuaded.  Contemplating the reality of heaven is a wellspring of hope for a future where all things are made just, good, and beautiful. It is here that you will find the comfort you need to live courageously and generously.  For relentless sufferers, death in Christ is the best comfort of all! God’s comfort never, never, never lets us down. It is only in forward thinking that I ultimately find comfort. There is sufficient comfort in this life to give us joy within sorrow and hope within disappointment.  But eternal life is where “every tear will be wiped away”, not before. For now, we fight the good fight of faith.

Does facing incurable cancer scare the hell out of you?

I’ve always been interested in theological discussions and debates concerning the nature of hell among evangelical theologians. I have my “hard and fast” opinions about this serious matter but that won’t be the topic of this post. Sorry, for anyone out there who thought this was going to be a very provocative diatribe from an untrained non-seminarian theologian who admits to having strong opinions that she’s accustomed to changing. If you are interested, a report by the Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth Among Evangelicals (ACUTE) called ‘The Nature of Hell’ outlines the differing opinions in clear and concise language.

Philosophical thoughts about cancer and mortality are frequent speculations. Recently, I looked for studies about what people with incurable cancer thought about hell. My cursory search didn’t turn up much, but I did come across a website for people voicing their thoughts about their diagnosis of terminal cancer. Hell was not a major topic, but one comment written over a year ago was difficult to read and generated a lot of responses from other sufferers. The commenter began with the following, “I have been told that I have 4 months to live and I am so afraid I am going to hell.” The responses were quick, empathic, and supportive. This woman’s heart-wrenching, brutally honest attempt to explain why she was in this frame of mind included her offenses to her family and specifically to her young daughter since her diagnosis. She felt conviction over the mess she had made of her life before diagnosis. But the real source of her anguish was the angry lashing out and jealousy towards healthy family members and friends.

I was moved by two observations. The first observation was the compassion extended by terminally ill responders who were compelled to try to make this woman feel better. Why were these fellow sufferers so compelled to help? Speaking from my own experience, there seems to be enough suffering to the illness as well as the grief of anticipated losses without added dread of future condemnation and alienation. That is unbearable. Like the others I was touched and wanted her to be at peace.

The second observation concerned the content of the responses. They ranged from:

1. On one end, “Forget about it, hell is a human construct that started in the middle ages by the church to secure their control and power over people,” to the other end,

2. A detailed lengthy comprehensive gospel presentation which was actually good if the sufferer could take it all in, to

3. The middle majority, which encouraged the writer to seek forgiveness from and reconciliation with those she admitted to hurting.

These posts were over a year ago. This woman may not still be alive, and the site did not show her response to the comments her original plea generated. Did she find peace? I hope so. If I had responded a year ago, I like to think I would have written:

“None of us are good enough to meet the holy standard of God. None of us. Thus, God himself in Jesus appeared 2000 years ago with a mission for securing our forgiveness. By simply trusting in his sacrifice by faith we are found perfect and acceptable before a perfect and holy God. Nothing is more liberating for the guilt-ridden. I know this. Then Christ fills our heart with gratitude and out of this grows the humility and courage to trust God to ask forgiveness from those we have offended.”

I hope she took the best of the advice and received the grace through Christ who forgives it all. I can’t imagine that if she sought her family’s forgiveness that she did not receive it from them. If she  did not, well, peace with God trumps all to secure her peace for eternity.
A recently composed hymn, “His Mercy is More,” says it beautifully. It was inspired by a sermon by John Newton, the creator of “Amazing Grace”.

“Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, But His righteousness is greater: we are weak but He is power.”

– John Newton

Living the New Normal

I finished cancer treatment over two weeks ago and have returned to my home in Juneau, Alaska.

I left Alaska in January of this year with a vision of myself as a healthy woman with exciting plans of seeing family and friends on the east coast and then a two month ministry in the Middle East; a routine that has gone uninterrupted for the last 8 years.  On February 26th those plans were profoundly interrupted with a sudden diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer. For those of you who have walked this path or cared for someone who has, you know the common expressions: “Everything changed in a moment’s time.  The rug was suddenly pulled out from under me.  I went from living a life to surviving for a life, and etc…”

David, who likes the country western star Alan Jackson, shared the lyrics from the song Jackson wrote and recorded for Denise, his wife of 33 years, after she had completed her cancer treatment:

Ain’t it funny how one minute your whole life’s looking fine

And a short few words later it all just comes untied?

You can’t believe you’re looking at what was always someone else,

Now it’s staring right there at you, yesterday you couldn’t tell. (1) 

Once the shock was processed then came the emotions: some sadness, some anxiety and some frustration, guilt and worry.

Then the anger starts to surface, lookin’ up, askin’ why

Then you realize He (God) probably wants the best the same as I.

But there were two other emotions that couldn’t be laid to rest.  They would show up in unexpected ways and times.  Gratefulness and humbleness were two friends that would visit uninvited so I began looking for them in unexpected places and, seeing them often, would greet them by name.  Calling a thing by its name whether that thing is a person or abstraction carries its own blessing and power.  Why are we embarrassed when we can’t Grateful humble_revremember someone’s name when we see that person?  It’s because we intuitively know that saying the name out loud will validate that person as significant and valuable in relation to us. “Oh wow, you remembered my name!” Of course I did because you made an impression on me and I gave you enough care and consideration to file your name away.  Unspoken thoughts perhaps, but none the less operating to create meaningful relationship.  Well, it happens much the same way with abstractions.  You name an abstraction in relationship to yourself enough times you will begin to feel its connection and power in your life: love, kindness, endurance, thankfulness, to name a few. The New Testament has a list and refers to them as the fruits of the Spirit.  (Galatians 5: 22-23, Colossians 3:2-17)  If you have read even a few of my previous blog posts you will see these two not-so-now-abstract feelings pop up a lot.

More Alan Jackson:

And the seconds turn to minutes, and minutes wouldn’t last

And the hours, days, and weeks and months, seem endless and too fast

And the blessin’s poured from Heaven, like the rain on that first spring.

But now, there is a new challenge in my life.

The treatment protocol for my particular cancer is complete.  Now there are new thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  I’m learning to live “the new normal.”  I like to compare this state with how I felt when I had my first baby.  Lots of attention from medical staff during pregnancy, delivery, birth and the few days in hospital and then, “voila”, the release into the world with my new human responsibility to figure out how to do this thing of living with baby without the hand holding.

Now, I don’t want to overdo this analogy because in reality there is support after birth and there is support after cancer treatment.  After all, there are the checkups and the knowledge that if anything goes haywire I can pick up the phone and say, “help,” and I will get it.[2]

But since being home I have experienced some trepidation of my future health possibilities, some crankiness and anxiousness reserved for the person who deserves it the least.  (You husbands out there will be happy to know that he doesn’t take it lying down.  He emailed me one of my own past blog posts the other day as a reminder of, hmm… I am not sure but I think it was a clever way to say, “Hey, be nice” or “be true to your blog post”.  Fair enough.)   Now, all of the above reactions are not uncommon for cancer patients and survivors.  There are plenty of studies out there to point to an handholding revincrease of depression in cancer patients after treatment so it does not surprise me that I may be having a few ups and downs since being done with treatment and realizing my cancer care providers are a couple thousand miles away. But, I am now having to learn to live this “new normal” and start fine tuning my radar for gratefulness and humbleness in many different places and circumstances and when finding it, start naming it.  I need these and other “fruits of the spirit” to wash over, overwhelm and subdue the fearful musings and emotions about an unknown future.   The hand holding treatment days may have come to an end for now but the Spirit didn’t go away.  The Holy Spirit is with me reminding me that there is a boatload of gratefulness to be named out loud.

So, I’m going hunting in new territory and I won’t be alone.


(1) ‘When I Saw You Leaving’

Writer: Alan Jackson
Copyright: Tri-angels Music, Emi April Music Inc

[2] Help for those of us of the middle class, that is.  It should be like that for everyone but sadly we know it isn’t. And that is not because no one is willing to help. In many places there are those willing to lend a hand.  The problem many times is that the marginalized have a lack of confidence and trust in the system to get what is needed. But then again there are many places in this world where those willing to help are few and far apart. This is all grist for future postings.


The scales were tipped and I was feeling guilty


I just got home from a party given by friends, Kyeonghi and Bernard, of the Buffalo church we attend.

Thirty-five people showed up, many wearing hilarious wigs in honor of my (still) hairless days. It was a blast. Most are young and full of “we are hard-wired for fun!”


I sat in the dark of my apartment explaining to David that I was having some internal dissonance.  (Poor guy – he has to endure therapist phrases and he probably just wants to say, “Can we simply call it confused feelings?”)

“Maybe it wasn’t all so bad after all (my cancer treatment).  I’m kind of feeling that I may have made a big deal about nothing so terrible.”

David’s response was straightforward, “Yes, it was a big deal; trust me.”

Maybe I am going through something like the aftermath of child bearing. The relief of new life causes a kind of amnesia of the pain you thought you would never get over.

But then again, I wasn’t satisfied with that analogy. Something else was going on. I stared at the basket of cards from friends from Juneau and other places.  I looked at the books and gifts sent and reminded myself of the countless phone calls from family and friends and the many emails even from David’s clients and colleagues who had never met me but wanted to encourage me.  People read my blog and were unbelievably kind in their responses. Friends traveled to visit me or house me.

The kindnesses that I received from my health providers and just random folks I would meet in the hospital – all of these memories were flooding me with that “internal dissonance” thing. The level of kindness far exceeded the level of suffering.

Because I was feeling unworthy of this amount of kindness crazy thoughts were entering my head in an effort to make sense of it. “I must have communicated to everyone that it was worse than it was. Did I tell them I was dying?  Did I let on like I was bedridden and hospitalized most of the time?  Did I say that my head was in a bucket 24-7 during chemo?  Did I intimate that surgery had complications or that radiation could only be endured with drugs, prescription and recreational?  In short, did I exaggerate this whole thing in spite of the fact that my doctors were telling me I had a high risk disease and treatment would be intense?”

I thought of the support of my sweet daughters, their husbands and my grand boys and my courageous 88-year old mother who looks after my 91-year old father.  It was beginning to feel like too much.

Too much support.

Too much love.

Too much guilt from all that love and support.

Too much God – is that even possible?

The scale was tipped in favor of love – far outweighing the trials of cancer treatment.  I was overwhelmed with undeserved love.

Of course it was undeserved.  Christianity 101 tells me that.  None of us get what we deserve.  God help us if we do. It just can’t be about deserving. I don’t even want it to be.  It gets back to that fair thing I talked about in my last post.  After all, do I deserve all this support and some other person in a hostile dangerous place who is being horribly persecuted for their religious belief or ethnic heritage deserves being alone, feeling forgotten and wondering why God is silent.  Does she or he deserve that treatment while I am showered with love and support from friends and family?  Of course, not.

What to do with all this

There is something else going on.  What are we ultimately meant to be thankful for? Please don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for the support of friends, family, and health care providers who, in part, sustained me through this ordeal. But I know that right now at this moment countless people of Christian faith and other minorities in faraway places and prisons are suffering, even dying, alone and unnoticed.  What sustains them?  It can’t be, “God loves me this I know for I have so many friends and family telling me so!” Equating God’s grace and blessings to family and friends and medical support just do not cut it for the multitudes deprived of basic human rights.  I once read John Stott, the late theologian and vicar of All Soul’s Church in London, say something to the effect that he could not worship a God who had not suffered pain, abandonment humiliation and forsakenness. Thank God we have that God in Jesus Christ. His suffering appropriated something profound, cosmic and eternal for which anyone of us can be blessed, whomever and wherever we are. Now, I am venturing into territory that I cannot speak authoritatively.  But someone can and has.  His name is Ziya Merkal.  I read an article of his in Christianity Today back in 2008.  I printed off a copy, put in a manila folder and over the years have reread it many times.  Here are the links to two articles by Ziya Merkal , “Bearing the Silence of God” ( the one I carry around) and “Standing with the Desolate” (recently read this on line). Please read them.

After listening to my angst in the darkness of our apartment after the lovely party thrown in honor of my end-of-treatment.  My husband said, “Dona, just be thankful.”  Good words spoken by the champion of support, love and perspective during one of the toughest 9 months of my life.  But David was quick to point out that the apostle Paul said it better in I Thessalonians 5:18,

“For this is the will of God, that you be thankful.”

It’s not fair

My last post promised theological reflections on the article, “Are you too Good Looking to Get Sick?” This piece bothered me and I suspect that it bothered you as well if you read it.  In summary, a study indicates that the more attractive a person is the higher their good health quotient.  According to the research people considered to be very attractive are statistically shown to have better health, avoiding a host of diseases and disorders.

clothespin-nose-donaWhy does this bother me so much?  Well to put it simply: it just does not seem fair! Before I go any further and find myself accused of hypocrisy, I admit that I want to be considered an attractive 63 year old woman as much as the next woman or man but I don’t want it linked to better health.  Again, it just doesn’t seem fair but then who said life was fair? Right? I mean why do I get cancer and somebody else doesn’t?  Is it because I’m not attractive enough? Why am I being treated with stage 3 breast cancer and the woman sitting next to me has stage 4 (metastatic cancer).  That doesn’t seem fair to her, does it? Who knows? Maybe it’s because I have a small nose and she doesn’t (another positive physical characteristic listed in the article). Wait a minute, I don’t have a small nose.  In fact, when I was 13 years old I tried going to bed with a clothes pin on my nose to stop it from growing any further.  It hurt too much so I didn’t follow through. Maybe if I had followed through I wouldn’t have gotten cancer at 62.  I know that these musings are degenerating into absurdities but some scientific research topics can sometimes be “crazy making”. They can tempt you into believing that it all comes down to whether or not you dodged a bad gene bullet or got more than your share of good genes in the celestial line-up.  As it turns out Life appears not to operate like a functional family full of siblings; each one born into the belief that they have an inherent right to be treated equally.

Theological reflections:

First, the Gospel of Christ actually begins with an understanding that life is not fair. The world is damaged and people are damaged goods; that is why we need a Savior. Everything is out of kilter not “just our face symmetry” (another one of those hallmarks of attractiveness leading to better health). And there is a myriad of ways that that damage is reflected in our DNA, environment, intelligence, upbringing, life choices etc. etc. We are not wired to be perfect.  The Genesis account of our creation assumes our predisposition to mess things up, even though it was not God’s intent in making us that way.

Second, read the Gospels in the New Testament and you quickly meet a Jesus who has a preference for the poor, marginalized, vulnerable, abused and sick.  He says that he “came for the sick, not the well” which it turns out to be all of us in one way or another. Many would disagree with such a grim assessment of human nature but that is how I read the Gospels and the experience of history and the present realities of human affairs.

Third, there is no mention by the gospel writers of Jesus’ physical appearance in spite of the fact that we have had a feast for the eyes for centuries of a beautiful Jesus who is tall, Nordic, symmetrical, with eyes big and blue as the sky. (Thankfully, in recent decades we have had art and media depictions of Jesus with Middle Eastern good looks- not anymore helpful- but at least less racially biased.)   So, why no mention of Jesus’ appearance in the Gospels or the Epistles of the NT? There is a lot of speculation.  I’ll weigh in on this : it is irrelevant and a distraction to the gospel message.  God in Christ has come to be with us, all of us.  And  maybe those in the world who don’t have good health, good looks or good standing and prosperity are better positioned to the kind of humility that brings souls to the fact that they are in desperate need of the Jesus who says,

“I am the bread of life” (the one who wants to feed the emptiness in souls)

“I am the Good Shepherd” who is willing to leave the flock to look for the one lost sheep. The one who is always with us through whatever circumstances we encounter.

“I am the light of the world” whose light exposes the darkness around us and within us and then shines hope and forgiveness, revealing the way back home to Himself.

The Gospel of John is the place in the New Testament that Jesus pronounces the “I am” statements like the three mentioned above. There are others. At different times in my life at least one of the “I am” statements have met a need; each one profound, personal, hopeful and able to penetrate the walls of resistance to His love, healing and grace. Not always but enough over the years to build a relationship of trust that is not dependent on beauty, health, admiration or even fairness.

Comic postscript:  My husband, David, wonders when there is going to be a study on the health of people like himself who think they are good looking but really are not; but then again that would have to be a study that would take in a lot of the world’s male population. Ah, if we women could only have the confidence of boys!

“Darling, it’s better to look good than to feel good”

Sitting in the radiation therapy waiting room, a woman waiting for treatment complained about things people have said to her since her diagnosis. “You don’t look like you are in cancer treatment, you look so good.”  She went on to explain that she did not feel like she was doing well.  She was filled with  anxiety because of a return of breast cancer and two tumors recently found on her lung.  She went on to say, “I have always tried to look my best…..but that certainly doesn’t change what is going on inside of me.”  My heart went out to her.

In an old Saturday night live skit Billy Crystal made the following comment famous, “Darling, it is always better to look good than to feel good.”  So silly and shallow, but funny.  Yet, since 1989 the American Cancer Society has sponsored a free program called, Look Good, Feel Better.  Any cancer patient can sign up for a consult with a cosmetician and receive a free bag of cosmetics suited to skin type.

I am struggling a bit here. Read my post called “The New 60?” to understand why. But actually, I appreciate what the American Cancer Society is doing with this kind of program.  You only need to read a couple of testimonies from women who participated in Look Good, Feel Better to get teary-eyed and grateful for such a thoughtful program. As one woman explained, “I was pale, hairless with dark patches on my face and feeing terribly self-conscious. During the beauty consultation I felt uplifted and normal and more confident to meet the public.”  I found the program a boost to my self-esteem as well.  And I could do it without feeling so vain. After all, I am being treated for cancer. I get a free pass for a lot of things.

If this was my last word on the topic I would have given a nice advert and thumbs up to a good program and left it at that.  But I did a little research on the scientific studies associated with looking good and feeling good and found a study that left me disturbed and prompted theological reflection.  If you are curious about that study read the article, “Are You Too Good Looking to Get Sick?” at:

If you are curious about my theological reflections read next weeks post.


The New 60?

Last week I read a thoughtful, insightful on-line article by Sharon Hodde Miller entitled, ‘Why pastors should preach on body image.’ As it turns out I am not the only one commenting or blogging about this article. By and large the comments have been supportbrinkleyive but for some it hit a raw nerve with angry criticism towards the author and the church. The following thoughts expressed in this blog and the ones in the article tend to be slanted towards the younger generation.  But there is something for us oldsters to take home as well.  After all, aging creates its own image issues. We are certainly not helped by the recent People magazine cover photo of Christie Brinkley at 60 years old.

From what I can ascertain the angry comments about Miller’s article come from women who have struggled with eating disorders and feel the article is judgmental and damaging. Furthermore, they have been hurt by a church whom they believe has misunderstood the complexities and difficulties of an eating disorder. The perception that they are meant to fix themselves haunts them and adds to an already in place self-loathing.

Even though eating disorders are mentioned in the article (please read this article – very provocative) my sense is that Miller addressed primarily the preoccupation and obsession to improve ones physical appearance to the exclusion of interests worthy of our nature as God image-bearers. By the way, this is not just a female issue.  As the article points out more and more young men are succumbing to the pressures of body perfection.

Personal Background:

Our culture has done a good job of selling us a self-worth based on others acceptance of us. If you were born female that acceptance was conveyed to you by a media culture that said that appearance was your only ticket for that acceptance.

Thirty-three years ago when I was pregnant with my first child I heard a pastor describe our culture’s message in this way, “If you are a boy you will hear the message that there are three ways to have self-worth: good looks, athleticism or intelligence. If you are born female the message will be: good looks, good looks or good looks.”  This was true for me growing up and I figured my child, if a girl would be fed the same message.  Right after my daughter was born a friend asked me if I would like a signature bible verse carved on a wood plaque as a baby gift. I chose the following verse and still have the plaque as a reminder of an important truth. It comes from the next to last verse of Proverbs: “Beauty is vain (fleeting) and charm is deceitful but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.”  I honestly believe I had the verse written more for myself than for my baby girl.

I read that verse now and try to understand it from the most recent assault on my body. I’m missing a breast.  I am not really sure I want breast reconstruction in spite of the fact that recent research shows an increase of self-esteem and positive mood for women who choose to do so. Then again I’m 63 years old.  If I was 33 or 43 I might know for sure that I wanted a body that conformed with the bodies of my gender. But then I go online and see younger women modeling their one breasted selves in bathing suits called monokinis; exposing the surgical side of their mastectomies.  I’m amazed at their confidence; but I am still sitting on the fence about the whole thing. Is my ambivalence reflecting something amiss in my body image? Again, I am not sure. After all if you know me, you know I am certainly not against wearing makeup, especially lipstick (read blog post: ‘The Upside (I mean it) of being Bald’).

Theological considerations:

Body perfection is a natural longing. I believe that as human beings we naturally yearn for perfection and beauty.  Maybe it comes from an innate primal look-back to the perfection we had as sinless God-image bearers or perhaps it’s a subconscious looking forward to a time when all things will be made right through the promise of a new created order with God’s beauty and perfection being the mirror reflecting our perfected selves.  Many of you have heard the following before but I think it’s relevant to the issue: “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man (and woman) which cannot be filled by a created thing, but only God, the Creator, made known through Jesus” (Blaise Pascal, 17th century Christian philosopher and writer). We walk around yearning for something to fulfill us; something beautiful, awesome and perfect.   We are wired to be filled with Him, the only all perfect One.  If we chose to go it alone then we are at risk to seek perfection and fulfillment in ways that deliver for a while (maybe) and then let us down with their lack of permanence.  I agree with Miller’s main point.  We are in need of pastors and anyone else who has a platform to tell us the truth about ourselves.  The truth is that the relentless pursuit of perfection in ourselves is futile and speaks of something broken in us and our world. We need to be reminded often that we are loved and of immense value to the one who made us, died for us, forgives us for our many imperfections(imperfect bodies is not one of them) and promises to return and set everything anew with beauty, glory and perfection.  Meanwhile I will let my far from perfect body be a reminder of a needful medical procedure that saves lives and of a self-worth that is really God’s worth being allowed to overshadow me with his message of love and acceptance.

Some asides:

I am so sympathetic with those who have eating disorders. I have treated people with this condition in my practice and I know their struggle and pain. Seeking help and keeping hope lend to healing and restoration. There is always hope.

For the rest of us let us be mindful of being drawn in by a culture that gives us no breaks.  On one hand we are castigated for being overweight and putting a burden on our health and our health care system and at the same time castigated for being too thin and self-obsessed about our bodies (hopefully my blog posting isn’t adding fuel to that fire).  And don’t forget that we are also being fed a steady diet of images meant to cause us to emulate or at least envy the beautiful so we can feed a greedy appearance industry.  Be aware and forewarned that our culture gives us mixed and contradictory messages.

Watch out for comparisons when it comes to caring about physical appearances.  “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man (or woman)… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).  In a different way, feelings of inferiority in comparison to others about appearance diminish us and them in our eyes thus interfering with our ability to get to really know and love them.

I’ll stop with one practical suggestion.

Try breaking the stranglehold of damaging comparisons by intentionally looking for attractive qualities in a person that are not appearance-based.  Look for something about their character, their personality, how they treat someone else, how willing they are  to be helpful, friendly, listening, accommodating, generous, their parenting style, cooking, whatever!  Look intentionally for anything, make a mental note about it and tell that person, or tell someone else about your positive observation about that person.  This is not superficial and inauthentic.  The Lord knows we need help to think less of ourselves and more of others.  It doesn’t come easy but let’s not give up.  I suspect that if we do this regularly we really will break the stranglehold. Our positive view of others and healthier views of ourselves will become second nature, our thoughts deepened and our lives enriched.


The upside (I mean it!) of being bald


In this post I want to  speak to the pluses and minuses of being bald. I’m serious….not tongue-in-cheek, or just funny or sarcastic. I have come to see some real advantages about being bald.

The positives:

1. You feel squeaky clean after a quick shower.

2. Your head dries within seconds – no blow drying, no nothing – just you and your natural born head.

3. You never have a bad hair day.

4. If you ever get head lice it will be easy to get rid of.

5. You get to reinvent yourself with the many wigs that you have conned from the American Cancer Society.  (Not really a con; it is just a matter of going to all the different ACS sites and asking for your one free wig.  They don’t care that you got one at another location.  Thank you, ACS.)

6. Friends give you gifts.  Some are beautiful scarves that you can wrap your head in different styles: African, Gypsy, Egyptian.   Again you’re reinventing yourself.


You know how our mothers always told us to make sure we had clean underwear on in case we were in an accident and had to be taken to the hospital?   Well I’ve got another one for you ladies:  always make sure you have on 24-hour stay lipstick and earrings..

True story: In an earlier post I mentioned that I passed out at the oncology clinic due to fever and infection; an episode that required the hospital’s  rapid response team to be summoned.  Once they were reassured  I was no longer in crisis  they started talking to me.  Let me rephrase that. They started talking about me.  At that point I was slowing regaining consciousness.  I could hear and understand but I just could not summon the strength to open my eyes.. I heard one responder say, “Look at her she still has her lipstick on!”  At that moment I knew something critical had to be said whether my eyes were open or not. So I said, “By the time I have my eyes open I expect all of you that are surrounding me to have your lipstick on.”  (I desrved that.)  They laughed and said that Ralph only wore his at night.  (Ralph had to have been a medical student.) See ladies, clean underwear won’t generate admiration or laughs.  Wearing clean underwear is just doing your duty.  Wearing 24-hour lipstick is above and beyond.

Positives of baldness continued……

6. When you want your husband to feel sorrier for you than you deserve you can  walk around the house bald or with an unflattering scalp cap; looking very pitiful without your lipstick or earrings. It might get you a back rub or yet another glass of lemonade. But don’t overdo  this, it will backfire. One time after being particularly demanding my husband looked at me in my scalp cap and said, “You look and act like you are in the mujahedeen!”

7. When you finally decide to spruce it up a bit you get more than your share of compliments from your husband. He really means it because he’s really relieved!

The downside:

Did you notice that I didn’t mention a single negative? There is one big one:

You cannot ride in a convertible.  If you ride in a convertible you wig will invariably fly off once the car attains a speed of 45 miles an hour. It is likely your friends will be videotaping you when this happens. The video will be uploaded and go viral within minutes. This is subject to YouTube embarrassment and notoriety worldwide. I know this to be true because I know of it happening to at least one other woman.

So I’ll close with a link to the  Church Lady’s Wig Flies Off. I have watched this YouTube a dozen times.  I love this woman and I love her family and you’ll see why.  Listen carefully for some few  keywords. She explains what a “Treacher” is.  Listen for the word, “road kill”.  Watch the  the expression on her daughter’s (the driver’s) face.  Listen to the teasing of the other daughters that are on and off-camera.   And finally listen for the expression that I could have said, “at least you wearing your lip stick!”



Please weigh in on this topic of plusses of baldness in the comment section. No negatives please.

Some illustrations from my own creative hand to amuse and educate: remember you are reinventing yourself.

Lipstick, earrings, wig and looking twelve
Lipstick, earrings, wig and looking twelve



Egyptian scarf with lipstick and cool earrings
Egyptian scarf with lipstick and cool earrings

No lipstick, no nothing but grumpiness
No lipstick, no nothing but grumpiness

Short curly wig. Too much lipstick but cool earrings.
Short curly wig. Too much lipstick but cool earrings.

Gypsy scarf with lipstick and earrings but looking 10-years old.
Gypsy scarf with lipstick and earrings but looking 10-years old.

African turban, lipstick, earrings
African turban, lipstick, earrings

Fear of Dying

The atmosphere was tense in the CT scan waiting room.  Nothing seemed particularly different at first blush – several men and women waiting their turn to have a machine tell them something about their tumors.  Like me, many were being accompanied by a family member or friend.  By this time, I had been in the breast cancer waiting room several times.  The atmosphere in the BC waiting room I now see as qualitatively different.  A friend referred to it as, “You and your sisters waiting together.”  None of that filial bonding in the CT scan waiting room.  We were a mixed gender and we were there representing a variety of different malignancies.  No one likes the word “cancer” but I imagined you flinched a bit when you read “malignancies.”  But that is how it felt.  I think that it had more to do with fear than anything else.  I wasn’t seated long before I heard the frustration and anger of one man directed at the two receptionists.  He and his wife had been waiting a long time and he was upset, “this place is incompetent and needs more accountability” was one of his many comments.  His disgust and self-righteousness was difficult to hear.  But later his gait to the CAT scan room told the story of great pain and a life threatening condition.  Another woman was angrily defending her cell phone’s dependability with one of the CT scan techs. “I have my phone with me all the time so there was no way you tried to call me to change the appointment.”  She pleaded, “I need this to happen today so that my oncologist can start my meds again for my liver and pancreas.”  I wanted to cry for her.

Things calmed down for me a bit until the two mega TV screens came on with a feature story on the plight of Syrian refugee children.  The shocking statistics of children who had already died in the Syrian war and the continuing health crisis of children in the refugee camps including an outbreak of polio only served to increase the malignant atmosphere of the waiting room.  By the time I was ushered into the CT scan room I was praying, “Come Lord Jesus, Come.  There is too much pain and fear of dying in this world so just come and set everything right.”

Laying on the CT machine’s gurney, I thought I was doing well emotionally considering my experience in the waiting room.  But I was suddenly betrayed by my limbic system.  Out of nowhere, my heart was racing and my breathing was rapid and shallow.  Where did this come from?  Within a nana-second I knew why.  My body was picking up the physical sensations of fear before a rational thought was registered.  The classic case of the amygdala beating the frontal cortex to the punch.  “Oh no, the test is over so why is the tech taking so long to come back to me?  They must be seeing something that is of concern.  The horse is out of the barn!  Metastasis!”

The fear of dying had just made itself known.  So, I did what a few friends had suggested in fearful situations.  I started quietly quoting relevant bible verses audibly. Verses that I had memorized in my twenties, the time in life to memorize as the young brain seals the deal.  It helped. I can’t say with confidence that the fear of dying will never find its way back to me again or that the way out of it will be to always quote scripture but there is a scripture verse I am taking to the bank of heaven.  It’s a verse that doesn’t depend on me to muster up a no-fear-of-dying feeling in order for it to be operative.  In Romans 8 verses 37-39 of the New Testament the Apostle Paul writes,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

By the way, I found out two days ago and now, four days before my surgery that the CT, bone and MRI scans were clear.  The horse is still in the barn.