My Circumstances Don’t Define Me (Panel Introduction)

July 10, 2017
My circumstances don't define me

When I was merely an infant, I was diagnosed with retinoblastoma. It’s a type of cancer where tumors grow on the back of your eye (on the retina). Because of the size and placement of one of the tumors, the safest thing to do was remove my right eye. So I have lived most of my life with a prosthetic.

Because I was so young, I easily adapted to being blind in one eye. There are times when I forget that I’m not “normal” but at other times, it’s painfully obvious. Like when my best friend called me a cyclops in 3rd grade. Or anytime I look in the mirror…

I have shared my story online, and in my book, “Mirror Mirror… Am I Beautiful?” but last week I was invited to be part of a panel that discussed reclaiming our identity after a serious illness or disability. You see, my story isn’t all that unique. Yes, it’s mine. But while my circumstances may be different, so many of us face illnesses or have disabilities that change our lives.

Even with those circumstances we can’t change, we do have the choice of whether or not we will let our circumstances break us. We can chose to find our true identity at the foot of the cross and use our circumstances for the glory of God. It took me quite a few years to learn that lesson, but it’s definitely a lesson worth learning.

A special thanks to April Boyer from Resting In His Shadow for hosting this panel.

Panel Update

In the past few year’s since this panel, April’s website has been taken offline. However, I still wanted to share my answers to the panel questions with you.

How did your illness affect your self-image?

I lost my right-eye to cancer when I was less than a year old, so I’ve basically lived my whole life with a prosthetic. While it was made by a very talented professional, it’s still obvious that it’s not the same as my other eye. I have known since I was small that I would never be beautiful. I spent countless nights crying myself to sleep over that reality.

Did your illness affect how you relate to others?

Having cancer and losing my eye completely changed the way I looked at others. I believe I have more compassion because of it. I am more willing to accept people who are “different” because I am different.

Did your illness affect you emotionally? And if so, why?

While I can’t say if my cancer affected me emotionally when I was small, I know it has affected me greatly as I grew. While I have been cancer-free for over thirty years, the effects it had on me will linger forever. I am changed, whether I remember life before cancer or not. I have days when I fully trust in Jesus and praise Him for all He’s brought me through, and I have days where I fall at His feet and just need to be loved by Him.

Did your illness affect how you ministered to others or how to serve God?

The cancer I had was genetic and it was passed onto my son. Because I had lived through it, I truly believe I was able to handle it better as a mom. Both my cancer, and the cancer of my son, have impacted my faith in a positive way, and I am able to share that faith with others in a way someone who has never struggled with cancer never could. I have a ministry for teen girls ( and I am able to speak into the hearts and lives of girls who aren’t flawlessly beautiful by the world’s standards because I’m not either. I’m able to come along side of other moms whose kids are suffering and testify to God’s goodness. God has definitely used cancer in my life to reach others for His glory.

How did you realize that your worth to Christ did not change?

I never really had a revelation about my worth to Christ, but over the years God slowly worked in my heart. I started realizing how God had used my cancer experience to make me into the person I am. It’s like I’ve always known that my cancer was part of what drew me to Him because it made me humble. And at one point I had to realize that I either believe God’s Word or not. Either I was made in His image, or I wasn’t. Either I was His child, or I was a child of Satan. I remember clinging to Galatians 3:28. It says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I remember realizing that God loves us all the same… and that meant me, too.

Is there someone who encouraged you in your journey?

I wish I could tell you that someone came alongside me and ministered to my hurting heart, but for me, it was a deeply personal journey. I’m an introvert by nature and I don’t always share my feelings. I tend to keep them to myself. Most people probably never even realized I struggled with my self-image and worth. But God did, and because of Him I knew I was never alone.

What is a favorite verse that affirms your worth?

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” Song of Songs 4:7 (NIV)

I’d Love To Hear From You

Can you relate to my circumstances? Or have you been affected by series illness in your life? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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  • Reply Terri Grothe July 10, 2017 at 9:03 am

    I am guilty of this, I let my circumstances decide if I will have a good day or a bad day, after reading this I am going to make that change

  • Reply Alice Mills July 10, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Have you read “Beauty, When the Other Dancer is the Self”. Alice Walker wrote it about what losing the sight in her eye meant to her and how she came to terms with it. Your story reminds me of that essay.

  • Reply Andrea July 10, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Circumstances shouldn’t be allowed to define us – God is what matters!

  • Reply Susan Evans July 10, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    How mean that your friend would call you a Cyclops when you couldn’t do anything about it. Kids can be so mean…

  • Reply Amy Hagerup (@amyhagerup) July 10, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    I love the title of your post. It is a good reminder to be careful not to let our circumstances define us. I want my identity to be in Christ alone.

  • Reply Amy Christensen July 11, 2017 at 7:25 am

    Heather, I commented on the actual post, Sorry. It was a great article and so informative for those of us who don’t struggle with these sorts of disabilities. Thanks for sharing! – Amy

  • Reply Heather July 11, 2017 at 10:25 am

    I have a bad habit of letting my emotions and circumstances guide how I react. I have been working so hard to leave my concerns with Jesus and not let things break me down, but it is hard. Very good post, I am glad that you have not let this “break” you!

  • Reply Chelsea Bolks July 11, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    This is where the old trusty Philippians 4:8 comes in handy! 😀 It’s so easy to let our thoughts become consumed with our circumstances, but if we re-align our minds to what is good and true and lovely, it makes our troubles seem so much less significant!

  • Reply Christia Colquitt July 12, 2017 at 6:50 am

    It is so easy to fall into the trap of letting circumstances define us. Sometimes I feel like I have some sort of a handle on this, but sometimes I am blindsided by how much I let circumstances get to me. Thank you for the reminder and encouragement.

  • Reply Kristi July 13, 2017 at 12:58 am

    Very powerful! Yes, we don’t have to let our circumstances break us but we have to choose to take them to God instead.

  • Reply Maria Hass July 15, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    I have experienced having a chronic illness change everything I thought was me… but I’m learning that the things I lost do not define me, and finding more of my identity in Christ.

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