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Bowler, K., Everything Happens for a Reason and Lies I've loved

By: Lisa Bozarth Ozaeta

Main Points:

  • Life can suck and we cant solve it for someone else. What we can do there is to be there. One key point was when someone told her to not race to the end. She got busy planning about what her life would be when she wasnt in it. She was missing the now moments. She needed to simply love those she was with each day and figure out to make the now count.

  • Kate does a great job of saying what was not helpful to her. It was not helpful to be told to fight or that it was happening for a reason or compare stories or ask how everything is going. There is a long list of these at the bottom of these highlights. Mostly, she needed to be seen. She needed to be seen as she walked through this horrible place but also as she walked in her day to day life. Ninja Warrior updates were a pleasure. Read the highlights at the end for things to do and not do.


  • Fairness is one of the most compelling claims of the American Dream, a vision of success propelled by hard work, determination, and maybe the occasional pair of bootstraps. (Location 225)

  • In a spiritual world in which healing is a divine right, illness is a symptom of unconfessed sin—a symptom of a lack of forgiveness, unfaithfulness, unexamined attitudes, or careless words. A suffering believer is a puzzle to be solved. (Location 299)

  • If you ask people in the prosperity movement how they know their lives are headed in the right direction, they talk a lot about proof. The lame will walk. The blind will see. Bills will be paid. (Location 329)

  • What would it mean for Christians to give up that little piece of the American Dream that says, “You are limitless”? Everything is not possible. The mighty Kingdom of God is not yet here. What if rich did not have to mean wealthy, and whole did not have to mean healed? What if being people of “the gospel” meant that we are simply people with good news? God is here. We are loved. It is enough. (Location 348)

Prosperity Gospel (Location 383)
  • God established a set of principles that keep the world in order. (Location 384)

  • spiritual laws that steer the courses of lives and ensure that good things really do happen to good people. (Location 385)

  • Laws of Prosperity Gospel

  • Law of Confession activates the power of positive thoughts, drawing our desires out of the heavens and into reality. (Location 385)

  • Law of Agreement allows two or more people to harness their spirituality corporately to create an answer to prayer. (Location 386)

  • Law of the Tithe supernaturally multiplies an offering of 10 percent gross income (Location 387)

  • There are the Law of First Fruits and the Law of Seed Faith and an entire Laws of Life book series by the televangelist (Location 388)

  • Spiritual laws offer an elegant solution to the problem of unfairness. They create a Newtonian universe in which the chaos of the world seems reducible to simple cause and effect. The stories of people’s lives can be plotted by whether or not they follow the rules.

  • In this world there is no such thing as undeserved pain. There is no word for tragedy. (Location 393)

  • Waiting is the language of Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” (Location 532)

  • I did not tell them how few of their words are needed but how much their hands are wanted, a hand on my back as I tear up, a hand on my head for a soft prayer for healing. When I feel I am fading away, these hands prop me up and make me new.

  • When my older colleague Frank, who lost his own adult son, found his way into my hospital room, he wrapped his strong hands around mine and said, quietly: “I wore this clerical collar to impress you. And also to get through hospital security.” (Location 852)

  • Televangelist would raise his right hand to the camera so viewers could press their hands against the screen. (Location 863)

  • The next best thing to skin on skin. They call these things “points of contact,” the mediation of sacred power through objects.

  • It is like God reaching out through something, bridging that last divide between divine and human, invisible and visible, spirit and flesh.

  • These are points of contact, but they cannot be called sacraments because that would be too Catholic and it looks too Catholic already. (Location 863)

  • “You have a thirty to fifty percent chance of survival.” By their definition, survival meant two years of life. And everything in my mind blurred and slowed. All I could think of to say was “If you’re going to say stuff like that to me, you’d better be holding my hand.” Hold my hand, I kept thinking. Don’t give up on me just yet. (Location 889)

I can't leave you alone
  • It is an easy lie that has wormed its way into my mind: I am the center that must hold. It is a thought I picked up so early on in my life that I can’t bring myself to question it. (Location 906)

  • Control is a drug, and we are all hooked, whether or not we believe in the prosperity gospel’s assurance that we can master the future with our words and attitudes. (Location 941)

  • For Christians not of the prosperity persuasion, surrender is a virtue; the writings of the saints are full of commands to “let go” and to submit yourself to what seems to be the will of the Almighty. (Location 966)

  • All of American culture and pop psychology scream against that.

  • Never give up on your dreams!

  • Just keep knocking, that door is about to open!

  • Think positively! (Location 967)

  • They are addicted to self-rule, and so am I. (Location 973)

  • This year I need Christmas, but not Christmas as usual. I need a miracle somewhat smaller than God becoming a baby and somewhat bigger than the promises of the Duke doctor who keeps using the word palliative. (Location 985)

  • A couple of Christmaes ago, I saw Carol at Church who had breast cancer. I didn't know what to say

  • She replied“I have known Christ in so many good times,” she said, sincerely and directly. “And now I will know Him better in His sufferings.” (Location 1042)

  • I could not imagine a world in which i could mean it

  • The prosperity gospel has a word for that feeling that God is on your side. It is called Favor.

  • “Favor!” The wind is at your back. It’s what insiders claim is the protection of God at every turn but outsiders might simply call luck. “I’m not a normal person,” (Location 1070)

Portraying Self
  • I can’t help but think about the person in the photo, who pretended she wasn’t on the edge of dying. Her cheerfulness. Her sunny-side-up Facebook posts brimming with positivity and gently ironic updates. Is that really me? (Location 1105)

  • To my friends and family, I sugarcoat the truth with spiritual-sounding assurances and good cheer. (Location 1108)

  • There is an inchoate sadness in the pit of my stomach, hard to express. (Location 1110)

  • When I started chemotherapy, I tried to hide all its varieties of ugliness.

  • I posted pretty self-portraits on Facebook and

  • named my portable chemo pack Jimmy after I saw former president Jimmy Carter at the cancer center twice and announced to everyone that we would develop a lifelong friendship. (Location 1120)

  • I couldn’t stand that people might see through me—that they might know I was only another tired cancer patient with a creeping sense of hopelessness and the glorious delusion that sheer willpower would make the difference. (Location 1124)

  • “See?” I say to my dad. “I’m not a normal person.” “No,” he says softly, reaching out to pull me to him. “You’re a superhero. But I wish you didn’t have to be.” (Location 1142)

  • try to say something about dying in a world where everything happens for a reason. Whenever there is a clarifying moment of grief, I jot it down. And then, in a flurry, (Location 1147)

  • Yes, yes, yes. Yet will I trust in Him. I don’t know what the word “trust” means anymore, except there are moments when I realize that it feels a lot like love. (Location 1184)

  • In Christian art, a palm frond is a symbol of martyrdom, a little reminder to the viewer that this saint has earned his or her status in blood. But at every Palm Sunday service, the only whiff of martyrdom is the sense that every child is about three seconds from getting a palm frond in the eyeball. A tired volunteer still manages a smile and hands one to my two-year-old, who is delighted. (Location 1189)

But most everyone I meet is dying to make me certain. They want me to know, without a doubt, that there is a hidden logic to this seeming chaos. (Location 1208)

Stupid things that people Say
  • Christians want me to reassure them that my cancer is all part of a plan. A few letters even suggest that God’s plan was that I get cancer so I could help people by writing the New York Times article. (Location 1213)

  • If you inspire people while dying, the plan for your life was that you would become an example to others. If you don’t and you die kicking and screaming, the plan was that you discover some important divine lessons. Either way, learn to accept God’s plan. (Location 1215)

  • What if everything is random? A woman who has left the faith for science writes: “I find it comforting to believe the universe is random, because then the God I believe in is no longer cruel.” This is a painful conclusion for so many who comb through the details of their tragedies and find no evidence that God was ever there. (Location 1220)

  • It is increasingly hard to remember that these side effects are not the same as dying. (Location 1228)

  • I keep my voice firm and strong, but I feel as fragile as glass. (Location 1230)

  • “I’m sorry, hon. I wish I never had to hear the words ‘at least’ again. At least I’m at a top-rated medical facility. At least I’m trying the new drug. Yesterday I found out that my insurance got screwed up and they sent my bill to debt collectors. Debt collectors.” We look at each other with the shared weariness of people tired at the oars. (Location 1240)

  • “Why is everyone trying to teach us a lesson?” she asks, and we both feel tired just thinking about it. (Location 1245)

  • The first is that I shouldn’t be so upset, because the significance of death is relative.

  • I like to call the people with that message the Minimizers.

  • Some people do it spiritually by reminding me that, cosmically, death isn’t the ultimate end.

  • “It doesn’t matter, in the End, whether we are here or ‘there.’ (Location 1248)

  • A lot of Christians like to remind me that heaven is my true home, which makes me want to ask them if they would like to go home first. (Location 1251)

  • Someone else writes that my faith is holding me hostage to an inscrutable God.

  • I should let go of this guesswork—these ridiculous theological reasons—and realize that we are living in an uncaring and neutral universe.

  • But the message is the same: stop complaining and accept the world as it is. (Location 1253)

  • The second lesson comes from the Teachers, who focus on how this experience is supposed to be an education in mind, body, and spirit. (Location 1261)

  • The hardest lessons come from the Solutions People, who are already a little disappointed that I am not saving myself.

  • “Keep smiling! Your attitude determines your destiny!” (Location 1270)

The Good Letters
  • THE LETTERS THAT REALLY speak to me don’t talk about why we die, they talk about who was there. When you were afraid that the end had come, were you alone? (Location 1282)

  • Thousands of people were interviewed about their brushes with death in every kind of situation—being in a car accident, giving birth, attempting suicide, et cetera—and many described the same odd thing: love. (Location 1290)

  • When they sat beside me, my hand in their hands, my own suffering began to feel like it had revealed to me the suffering of others, a world of those who, like me, are stumbling in the debris of dreams they thought they were entitled to and plans they didn’t realize they had made.

  • That feeling stayed with me for months. In fact, I had grown so accustomed to that floating feeling that I started to panic at the prospect of losing it.

  • So I began to ask friends, theologians, historians, pastors I knew, and nuns I liked, What am I going to do when it’s gone? And they knew exactly what I meant because they had either felt it themselves or read about it in great works of Christian theology.

  • St. Augustine called it “the sweetness.” Thomas Aquinas called it something mystical like “the prophetic light.”

  • But all said yes, it will go. The feelings will go. The sense of God’s presence will go. There will be no lasting proof that God exists. There will be no formula for how to get it back. (Location 1306)

  • read an article about how people in grief swear because they feel the English language has reached its limit in a time of inarticulate sorrow. Or at least that is what I tell people when I am casually dropping f-bombs over (Location 1354)

Living in the Moment
  • AM STUCK IN present tense. With a scan around every corner, I have lost the ability to make extended plans, to reach into the future and speak its language. I have lost the rhythm of anticipating the seasons. (Location 1500)

  • Sometimes this ability to live in the moment feels like a gift. My pain feels connected to the pain of others somehow.

  • I notice the look of exhaustion on the young mom’s face at the grocery store and help her with her cart.

  • I stop to talk to the homeless man sitting on the corner.

  • I give money away more freely, less begrudgingly.

  • I can see now how hard people work to keep it together, but the walls that keep their lives from falling apart are brittle. (Location 1508)

  • I am trying to clear the emotional hurdles of using the words that show up on my chart. Palliative. Noncurative. Or, we are hoping for a “manageable illness” in the face of no cure, but the comments section is a blurry mess of “Don’t give up!” and “God bless you in your preparations.” It feels impossible to translate the kernel of truth: (Location 1539)

  • “You know how God’s time is different than ours…He sees everything, past and future, like it’s in the same moment? I mean, we believe that the three members of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—always existed even though we think Jesus was born at a moment in time.

  • But he always existed in another sense?” I was rambling, tumbling over my sentences trying to get to the point. I tried again.

  • “But do you think that means that, when I die, I will see things from God’s perspective?”

  • Say it. Just say it. “Do you think that when I die…I won’t have to feel…apart?” (Location 1570)

  • If I were to invent a sin to describe what that was—for how I lived—I would not say it was simply that I didn’t stop to smell the roses. It was the sin of arrogance, of becoming impervious to life itself.

  • I failed to love what was present and decided to love what was possible instead. I must learn to live in ordinary time, but I don’t know how. (Location 1627)

  • “We’re all terminal,” he says simply, and it answers my unspoken question. How do you stop? You just stop. You come to the end of yourself. And then you take a deep breath. And say a prayer. And get back to work. (Location 1662)

“Don’t skip to the end,” he said, gently. “Don’t skip to the end.” (Location 1671)

  • Plans are made. Plans come apart. New delights or tragedies pop up in their place. And nothing human or divine will map out this life, this life that has been more painful than I could have imagined. More beautiful than I could have imagined. “Right. That’s the secret—don’t (Location 1681)

Friends Like Kate
  • “Oh, absolutely not,” she said. “That all sounds very serious and proper when you say it like that.”

  • “Fine. ‘No Living Well, Grieving Well.’ ”

  • “How about your motto should be ‘Balls Out Living. Balls Out Grieving’?” she ventures.

  • When she says it, I love her more.

  • She never treats me as if I’m rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, or tacitly suggests I could save myself (Location 1700)

  • She helps me walk the line between total passivity and supercharged heroic effort, but mostly she understands that the best thing she can do is order Canadian props for my patriotic Canadian Thanksgiving party and pray for me like a champion. (Location 1703)

What do I want to give to the people I love?
  • Compassion. That one is for Zach.

  • I have always wanted to raise a boy who loves the underdog, who stops for snails, who wants to know why the man outside the car window says he will work for food. I want to raise a tough softy.

  • He will know the pain of the world but all will be better for it.

  • He will be brave in the face of heartbreak. (Location 1711)

  • Joy. For Tobin. How can I ask a man who might lose his wife, the mother of his son, and his bes friend since school to feel something close to joy?

  • Sometimes we play a game called What Don’t I Know About You? and the answer is always so specific that no one else can play. (Location 1716)

  • As the question turns in my mind, my hand begins to scribble. The page is filling with words, ideas, little tidbits of something I wasn’t sure I knew how to do anymore. I am making plans. I am living in Ordinary Time. (Location 1719)

  • My little plans are crumbs scattered on the ground. This is all I have learned about living here, plodding along, and finding God. (Location 1727)

  • My plans are no longer my foundation. I can only hope that my dreams, my actions, my hopes are leaving a trail for Zach and Toban, so, whichever way the path turns, all they will find is Love. (Location 1728)


  1. “Well, at least…” Whoa. Hold up there. Were you about to make a comparison? At least it’s not…what? Stage V cancer? Don’t minimize. (Location 1738)

  2. In my long life, I’ve learned that…” Geez. Do you want a medal? I get it! You lived forever. Well, some people are worried that they won’t, or that things are so hard they won’t want to. So ease up on the life lessons. Life is a privilege, not a reward. (Location 1740)

  3. “It’s going to get better. I promise. (Location 1744)

  • Well, fairy godmother, that’s going to be a tough row to hoe when things go badly (Location 1745)

4. “God needed an angel (Location 1747)

  • This one takes the cake because (a) it makes God look sadistic and needy and (b) angels are, according to Christian tradition, created from scratch. Not dead people looking for a cameo in Ghost. You see how confusing it is when we just pretend that the… (Location 1748)

5. “Everything happens for a reason.” The only thing worse than saying this is pretending that you know the reason. I’ve had hundreds of people tell me the reason for my cancer. Because of my sin. Because of my unfaithfulness. Because God is fair. Because God is unfair. Because of my aversion to Brussels sprouts. I mean, no one is short of reasons. So if people tell you this, make sure you are there when they go through the cruelest moments of their lives, and start offering your own.(Location 1751)

  • When someone is drowning, the only thing worse than failing to throw them a life preserver is handing them a reason.

6. “I’ve done some research and…” I thought I should listen to my oncologist and my nutritionist and my team of specialists, but it turns out that I should be listening to you. Yes, please, tell me more about the medical secrets that only one flaxseed provider in Orlando knows. Wait, let me get a pen.(Location 1755)

7. “When my aunt had cancer…” My darling dear, I know you are trying to relate to me. Now you see me and you are reminded that terrible things have happened in the world. But guess what? (Location 1761)

  • That is where I live, in the valley of the shadow of death. But now I’m on vacation because I’m not in the hospital or dealing with my mess. Do I have to take my sunglasses off and join you in the saddest journey down your memory lane, or do you mind if I finish my mojito?(Location 1763)

8. “So how are the treatments going? How are you really?”

  • This is the toughest one of all. I can hear you trying to understand my world and be on my side.

  • But picture the worst thing that has ever happened to you. Got it?

  • Now try to put it in a sentence. Now say it aloud fifty times a day. Does your head hurt? Do you feel sad? Me too.

  • So let’s just see if I want to talk about it today because sometimes I do and sometimes I want a hug and a recap of American Ninja Warrior. (Location 1766)

Short List of Things to Do

  1. “I’d love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?

”Oh, thank goodness. I am starving, but mostly I can never figure out something to tell people that I need, even if I need it.

But really, bring me anything. Chocolate. A potted plant. A set of weird erasers. I remember the first gift that I got that wasnt about cancer and I was so happy I cried.

Send me funny emails filled with YouTube clips to watch during chemotherapy.

Do something that suits your gifts. But most important, bring me presents. (Location 1777)

2. “You are a beautiful person.” Unless you are of the opposite gender and used to speaking in a creepy windowless-van kind of voice, comments like these go a long way. Everyone wants to know they are doing a good job without feeling like they are learning a lesson.

  • So tell your friend something about his life that you admire without making it feel like a eulogy.(Location 1780)

3. “I am so grateful to hear about how you’re doing and just know that I am on your team. (Location 1784)

  • You mean I don’t have to give you an update? You asked someone else for all the gory details? Whew. Great! Now I get to feel like you are both informed and concerned. So don’t gild the lily.

  • What you have said is amazing, so don’t screw it up now by being a Nosy Nelly.

  • Ask a question about any other aspect of my life.(Location 1785)

4. “Can I give you a hug?”

  • Some of my best moments with people have come with a hug or a hand on the arm.

  • People who are suffering often—not always—feel isolated and want to be touched.

  • Hospitals and big institutions in general tend to treat people like cyborgs or throways. So ask if your friend feels up for a hug and give her some sugar. (Location 1788)

5. “Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard.”

  • Perhaps the weirdest thing about having something awful happen is the fact that no one wants to hear about it.

  • People tend to want to hear the summary but they don’t usually want to hear it from you. And that it was awful.

  • So simmer down and let them talk for a bit. Be willing to stare down the ugliness and sadness.

  • Life is absurdly hard and pretending it isn't is exhausting. (Location 1793)

6. Silence

  • The truth is that no one knows what to say.

  • It’s awkward.

  • Pain is awkward.

  • Tragedy is awkward.

  • People’s weird, suffering bodies are awkward.

But take the advice of one man who wrote to me with his policy: Show up… (Location 1800)

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