Kate Bowler felt like her life was just beginning. At 35, she was married to the love of her life. She had a young son and a dream job as a historian of Christianity. She had written a book, Blessed, about the origins of the notion that good things happen to good people.
Then one day, in 2015, she received a call from a physician’s assistant. The cause of some intense stomach pains she had recently sought treatment for, she was told, was Stage 4 colon cancer. The physician’s assistant said Bowler would be lucky to make it through the next year.
Many people who receive her diagnosis begin to get their affairs in order and spend their remaining time with family in between treatments. Bowler did all that, but also launched a podcast called Everything Happens, on which she talks with people about what they learned in dark times. She wrote another book. And she set about changing the way people view and talk about suffering in America.
As Bowler sees it, the idea that suffering is always rewarded is deeply rooted in both Christian and American values. For years, she was convinced that if you put in work, you’ll eventually reap the rewards. She worked through holidays and vacations, schlepping her computer to the beach to finish a paper or project.