Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


Let Me Live Until I Die: An Interview with Thea Bowman

posted by Beyond Blue

Thea Bowman.jpgFollowing are excerpts from an interview with Thea Bowman, a Franciscan Sister who became a huge inspiration to black Catholic communities, and to wider circles for her joy and gratitude, her nobility of spirit, and her very real spirituality. The interview, published in Praying magazine and US Catholic, was conducted shortly before she died from cancer, in March 1990, at the age of 53. For me, she is the picture of courage and perseverance of a person living gracefully with pain.


Question: What kind of changes have you had to make in your life because of the cancer?

Thea Bowman: Part of my approach to my illness has been to say I want to choose life, I want to keep going, I want to live fully until I die …

I don’t know what my future holds. In the meantime, I am making a conscious effort to learn to live with discomfort, and, at the same time, to go about my work. I find that when I am involved in the business of life, when I’m working with people, particularly with children, I feel better. A kind of strength and energy comes with that.

Question: What’s ahead for you now?

TB: When I first found out I had cancer, I didn’t know if I should pray for healing or life or death. Then I found peace in praying for what my folks call “God’s perfect will.” As it evolved, my prayer has become, “Lord, let me live until I die.” By that I mean I want to live, love, and serve fully until death comes. If that prayer is answered, if I am able to live until I die, how long really doesn’t matter. Whether it’s just a few months or a few years is really immaterial.

Question: How do you make sense out of your pain and suffering?

TB: I don’t make sense of it. I try to make sense of life. I try to keep myself open to people and to laughter and to love and to have faith. I try each day to see God’s will. I pray, “Oh Jesus, I surrender.” I pray, “Father, take this cross away. Not my will, but thy will be done.” I console myself with the old Negro spiritual: “Soon I will be done the troubles of this world. I’m going home to live with God.”

Question: Is God really present in suffering?

TB: God is present in everything. In the universe in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the church – everywhere. In the midst of suffering, I feel God’s presence and cry out to God for help: “Lord, help me to hold on.”

Question: Why do people have to suffer? What possible good can come from it?

TB: I don’t know. Why is there war? Why is there hunger? Why is there pain? Perhaps it’s an incentive for struggling human beings to reach out to one another, to help one another, to love one another, to be blessed and strengthened and humanized in the process.

I know that suffering gives us new perspectives and helps us to clarify our real value. I know that suffering has helped me to clarify my relationships … Perhaps suffering stops us in our tracks and forces us to confront what is real within ourselves and in our environment.

Question: Has your faith changed since you discovered you had cancer?

TB: My faith is simpler. In many ways, it’s easier; it’s closer to home and to reality. I have more desire to grow in faith and hope and love. When I’m in pain, I know I need Jesus to walk with me. I can’t make it on my own. I pray, “Lord, I believe. Increase my faith. Help my unbelief.”

I remember the words of an old song: “We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord, trusting in his words. The Lord has never failed us yet. Oh, can’t turn around because we’ve come this way by faith.

Question: Do you find hope in yourself?

TB: I know that God is using me in ways beyond my comprehension. God has given me the grace to see some of the seeds that I have sown bear good fruit, and I am so grateful.

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  • http://chipur.com Bill White

    Thanks so much, Therese. See, these are the people I admire – my heroes. So simple, yet sophisticated beyond my comprehension in terms of the ability to live their lives in peace.
    Question: Why do people have to suffer? What possible good can come from it?
    TB: I don’t know. Why is there war? Why is there hunger? Why is there pain? Perhaps it’s an incentive for struggling human beings to reach out to one another, to help one another, to love one another, to be blessed and strengthened and humanized in the process.
    Very moving…

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  • Amy

    Therese, you are my savior. I don’t know how you continue to do it but you always speak to my heart. Every time I read your website posts the topic always applies to something I am going through right now. You are an amazing woman and are helping me every day not only survive but live and ENJOY to the fullest a life raising 4 beautiful little boys and being married to one wonderful husband along with coping with anxiety and depression. Thank you and please never ever stop writing!

  • jp brody

    Kind of ironic that some goober put an ad for Gucci shoes in the comments. Articles like this make items like that seem frivolous. Faced with someone who has taken vows of poverty, enduring suffering, but living life until death is really where true value and worth is found.
    jp brody

  • Greg

    Therese,
    Just when I think I can’t be moved or impressed anymore by your articles, you heighten my senses one more time. What a wonderful and inspiring piece on Sister Bowman. Maybe if the Church had had more women like her looking in on administrative matters at the top of the hierarchy, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.
    Thank you for all your efforts at trying to bring out the best in the human condition. You don’t go unnoticed.

  • rodgers

    this is a wonderful testomonies too many my sister died from breastcancer and she lived her life to the fullest no matter what please yourself and god.t god is the answer no matter what you go through trust in him i am a witsness to that lost so many that was dear to me been through so much but still standing through god grace and mercy god never fais faith is the substances we need we dont have to see god to know he is who he says he is believe it

  • Kathy

    Thea, I totally agree with everything that you wrote. I recently found out that I have cancer and it has changed my life dramatically. Thank you for your inspirational words.

  • Josie

    My prayer is and always will be Lord Thank You for the oppurtunity to live life more abundantly due to The Word of God and that all His promises apply through faith and Belief. Tommorow is not promised they say, but all things are possible through Christ who released the Holy Spirit and God the Father therefore the onipotent , omnicient and omnipresent are all one force when given reverence to, makes all things possible through belief in the Holy Trinity. God the Father , God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, All three are One.

  • Lisa

    Boy! This hit the nail on the head for me.
    Like it always does. :)
    Well done and thank you!!

  • Your Name

    There are many woman like Thea Bowman who had lived and died loving God till the end of their lives.God our Heavenly Father gave us the breath of life,He alone can take that away anytime,whatever kind and ways we have lived our lives,they aren’t any secret to our Heavenly Father and Mother,each one of us are serving God’s plans and purpose,each one will receive both rewards or punishment according to the choices we made while living our life,but,when we always remember more about God’s love and sacrifices for us,we are sure that we never walk alone in this life,physically we are alone,but when we open our eyes of spiritual understanding,our heavenly Father and Mother are just teaching us lessons in order to get transformation so we can go back in their loving arms and live forever with them in eternity,for when we overcome and hold fast til the end,we are the children of promise.

  • David

    I am a beleiver that our Father in heaven sent his only son to sacrifice his life. To SUFFER and die for our sins. But as for this world and its corruption we too will suffer. Not because of Gods hate for creating what we have become. But just as our Savior suffered for no reason their are thousands of innocent children who suffer & die each & every day, no food or water.
    We live in a country that deserves punishment, the land of milk & honey! Or today’s society drugs, killings & war! We deserve nothing less than what He did on the cross, pain, anguish, humiliation, and death for no reason of our own!
    We can not save ouselves, the hope we have is dismal & should be taken away from us. As each one of us is SELFISH, UNFORGIVING & JUDGEMENTAL!
    CHRISTIANITY HAS BECOME A MOCKERY! WE JUDGE OTHERS BASED ON WHAT SATAN DOES TO US EACH & EVERY DAY! TEMPTATION! RELIGION IS A JOKE! WE ARGUE AMONGST OURSELVES! WHOSE RIGHT WITH THEIR BELIEFS WHEN WE TURN PEOPLE AWAY BECAUSE WE CAN’T TEACH THE TRUE MESSAGE OF CHRIST’S BIRTH & PERSECUTION, ONLY TO RAISE 3 DAYS LATER!GRACE AND BY ONLY GRACE CAN WE BE SAVED!
    I HAVE A TERMINAL DISEASE & SUFFER EACH DAY! THE ONLY HOPE I HAVE IS HE WILL HAVE GRACE & MERCY UPON ME! I AM NOT DESERVING OF ANYTHING BUT ETERNAL DAMNATION! HE TRULY IS A LOVING GOD STOP FEELING SORROW ABOUT YOURSELF! GET ON YOUR KNEES AND REPENT! DEATH IS LIFE! HOPE IS CHRIST!ETERNITY IS FOREVER!

  • Kim

    Thanks, David.
    So harsh, but so true! Amen!

  • James

    I am not a church going person. I have seen too many supposedly Christains in church, and then obsereved them in public and their be-
    havior is certainly not Christain. The best preacher that I ever had the honor of hearing his sermons was Pastor Charlie Yates at the First Baptist Church in
    Edgewood, N.M. He was reformed gambler, brawler, and drunkard. when he delivered a sermon, it came from his heart and soul, I witnessed another young Pastor give the finger to another person at a church camp. This is only one example that I have witnesed through the years. I do belive in christ and I pray nearly night for my family and and all of the many young people who are in the military who put their lives on the line for each and every one of us, I hope that you can understand why I not a regular church goer. but I do consider myself a Chraintain. Thank you for your web message.

  • Renee

    Cancer took my daughter away, but before she left that is exactly how she view life. She accepted it gracefully, which taught me a great lesson about life and the will of God. This story is inspiring!

  • SuzanneWA

    God gave me a “thorn in my flesh,” as well as a mental illness that I struggle with each and every day. Thea’s total Christian attitude toward suffering is beyond admirable; she was a True CHILD of GOD. I only hope that when my time comes to meet the Lord, I will have no regrets of how I spent my life. If I could, I’d volunteer to help those more needy than myself; however, it’s all I can do to help myself get through the day. I’m NOT a whiner or complainer. I go to bed, praying, “Thank you, God, for another day.” And I wake up each morning, praying, “Thank you, God, for another day.” It’s the only way I can make it anymore. I know that God has a plan for my life, and I’ve kind of figured it out…instead of trying to “save the world,” I “save” my little portion of it by displaying Christ-like love to anyone I meet, so they can see Christ in me. I shall pray for David, as he faces his own mortality. He has the right idea; we are ALL sinners, and can only be saved by God’s holy grace. Amen…

  • Ira

    My testimony of God’s everlasting GRACE, MERCY and LOVE has come from my personal life’s journey. I lost a daughter (age 28) to HIV/AIDS, my mother(age 42)to a fatal heart attack. I also lost my nephew (age 18)whom I helped to raise and was like a son to me. He was accidently shot in the head. I have a daughter who has been battling severe bipolar disorder for many years. For a long time, her medications were not correct which caused so much pain and anguish for she and myself as her mother trying to help her in her everyday struggles. I have another daughter who has been on drugs for years and still is struggling for deliverance. My fourth daughter suffers with depression which has affected her ability to make sound decisions in the past (she have four children). I had to take custody of my three grandchildren belonging to my deceased daughter. All three children had disabilities. I later had taken temporary custody of my second daughter’s three children because of her drug problems. The oldest grand daughter was diagnosed with type 2 diabetis at age 17 and is presently taking medications. This disorder often causes her to be admitted in the hospital to correct problems. My other grand daughter, now age 20 has had ADHD and depression disorders since age 10. This became another assignment for me to handle after my daughter passed and I took custody of her. I have also had to help my daughter who suffered with depression because she wanted to give them up to the state as she felt she was not able to take care of them. I presently have temporary custody of my oldest grandson’s son (age 5) because he is in jail and the mother has problems and is in the process of getting herself together through court order. This was to keep him from state’s custody. I have one brother who has hepitis 3 and is on disability. I have one sister who struggles with alcohol. I had to give up my working career in order to take care of the above situations. As of 8/31 of this year, by God’s grace, I will be turning 56 years old. No one but God has kept me with a sound mind. His mercy has allowed me to still see HIS goodness. God’s love for me still abounds daily. I could easily give up and say “why me”. But I know that God has a plan for my life. I continue on asking HIM to continue increasing my faith and help me to hold on. I know that God is real and HE yet lives. Some days gets very hard. I struggle with finances because I don’t have a job at this time. I do not have transportation because my car engine blew up. I don’t know how I am going to make it daily but God knows. I just thank him in the midst of my storms and they are many. I continue to tell others of God’s goodness to anyone whenever an opportunity presents itself. The word of God is POWERFUL!! He will keep you when you think no one else cares. God Cares!! He can be that PEACE OF MIND, A MIND REGULATOR, A HEART FIXER. He can be a father (my dad passed from diabetis complications at age 60). I know who God the father is and can testify of his goodness in my life. May the Grace of God continue to encourage and keep you faithful until the end. This is my prayer for you.

  • http://beyondbreastcancer.wordpress.com Marie

    Really found this post spoke to me at a very deep level Therese.I am reminded of the Oliver Wendell Holmes quote “Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out”. Thanks for sharing this life affirming interview with us.

  • Carolyn

    I just lost my mother to cancer June 15,2010. What she found for strength was fighting to live for her three grown children. One in particular…me. She knew I was the only one not “established” in life because I made the choice to make my life taking care of both my mother and father by moving into their home. Dad passed away November 27th,2004 from a massive heart attack after being given a clean bill of health’s the very same week from his doctor. Mom lasted for 6 yrs. after dad ‘s passing.
    Through seeing my mom suffer through so much pain, I told her I had heard she was hanging onto what life she had left out of worry and concern for me. She reached for my hand with what little strength she had left and looked at me and said “well sis and whats wrong with that, you always have been my little girl.” I knew at that moment I could not bear the burden of her suffering and so I did the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. Through tears and my heart and soul breaking..I told her I would be OK, and to please go and be w/dad, he was waiting for her, I then had my youngest daughter and grandaughter sing Amazing Grace to her so she could have peace. One hour later she took her last breath and left this world to be with God and her loved ones. It was the greatest last gift I could give to my Mom…the gift of peace to go to her heavenly Father. I had to put my pain away and free her from her’s.

  • Joseph Brown

    Christians say the Bible has the answers to life’s questions, but when it comes right down to it thay say they don’t know. I’m an ex-Christian, who finally recognized this truth, among others.
    In Africa a few years ago a pregnant young woman was walking along a river bank. She suddenly fell to the ground and began giving birth. An African python lept out of the river and grabbed the just-born baby. God’s wonderful plan for this person’s life was to become snake s..t. There are a bilion such stories, and no supernatural explanations for any of them.
    Me, I have pancreatic cancer and am not going to go through the agony of treatment. A god didn’t cause the cancer, and won’t magically make it go away.

  • David

    This message goes out to Suzanne. Thanks for your prayers and I too will keep you in prayer as well. This was only a brief overview and it may have sounded as I was bitter. But as I sat on a plane headed to visit my mother a little over a week ago I had the oppotunity to chat with a pleasant woman who sat next to me.
    She had traveled often in her endeavors as a wife of a military man. We had a common ground she had twins born at Ft. Lewis Washington. She raved what a wonderful Army Hospital! I agreed, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her I had been blessed with a daughter who was born in Germany, diagnosed with a brain tumor (cancer) at 4 months and went to be with our Lord & Savior at 9 months at that same hospital her daughters were born at!
    Several years later my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. I recall the day the doctor said they needed to do a biopsy. As I held her hand & watched as they stuck the needle into her hoping & praying all would come back negative.
    But several months later she had to have a full masectomy, but she has been in full remission for almost 18 years!
    We are no longer together I left her a little over a year ago! She placed her importance on monetery values. As God led me to teach Youth, volunteer my time for the elderly and spent a year with AmeriCorp being a witness for Our Savior Jesus Christ.
    To sum it all up “GOD IS GOOD, ALL THE TIME” and “ALL THE TIME GOD IS GOOD”! MANY BLESSINGS TO YOU AND ALL WHO SHARE THEIR FAITH!

  • Sheila Ryan

    MY HEART GOES OUT TO TB SHE BEEN THUR SO MUCH AND ITS GOOD THAT SHE’S A GOD FEARING WOMAN YES THE LORD HAS A PLAN FOR HER MAYBE TAKING CARE OF HER GRANDCHILDREN AS WELL AS HER OWN. AND NOW SHE’S SICK CANCER HERSELF. I WAS READING THE OTHER COMMENTS. IN 2006 I WAS DIANOSED WITH LUNG,I HAD A TUMOR IN THE LINING OF MY LUNG ALSO BONE CANCER FOR SEVERAL YRS I WENT TOO SEE SERVERAL DOCTORS OVER MY FEET & LEGS HAD OPEN SORES ON MY ANKLES ON THE BONEY PART OF THE ANKLES NO ONE EVER GAVE ME A DIRECT ANSWER CAUSE THEY DIDN’T KNOW. MY LEGS ARE BROWNISH BLACK ON BOTH LEGS, JUST HAD MY GALLBLADDER REMOVED BECAUSE OF HAVING CANCER IN IT. PRAISE GOD THEY RAN AND ULTRASOUND ON IT SHOWED UP AS A PORCELAIN GALLBLADDER(CANCEROUS) THANKING GOD THEY TOOK IT OUT IT WAS A SIZE OF A PEAR AND NO CANCER WAS FOUND. I BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF PRAYER SEEN TOO MANY MIRCALES PREFORMED GOD WAS WORKING HIS MIRCALES ON ME, I’M ALSO DISABLED TOO I LOST ONE OF MY SISTERS TO BREAST CANCER IN 94 MY OLDEST SISTER IS IN REMISSION FROM BREAST CANCER, MY MOM HAS CANCER,COPD, TUMOR REMOVED FROM HER WINDPIPE,A STENT & BALLOON IN HER LUNG, MY DAD HAD TOO HAVE THE HEAD OF HIS PANCREAS REMOVED GRAPEFRIUT SIZED TUMOR NOW HE IS A DIEBETIC AND MY BROTHER HAS HAD MIMI STROKES I TRULY BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF OUR HEAVENLY FATHER HE HAS PULLED MY FAMILY THUR HE HAS A PURPOSE FOR ALL OF US MY HUSBAND HAD PART OF HIS BOWEL REMOVED, AND HAS HAD BACK SURGERY HAS PINS, AND CLIPS IN HIS BACK. AND IT MAKES ME SO AGGRAVATED WHEN I HEAR PEOPLE SAY THAT ITS GOD’S FAULT OR THERE ISN’T A GOD . NEWSFLASH FOR THOSE PEOPLE WHO DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD!! YES THERE IS A GOD HES COMING BACK SOON AND EVERYONE BETTER BE READY. I AM!! ARE YOU??? THERS ALOT OF SICKNESS NOW DAYS BACK WHEN I WAS GROWING UP I’M A BABY BOOMER BORN IN THE 50’S WE USE TO EAT GREEN BEANS, TOMATOES STRAIGHT FROM THE GARDEN AND IT DIDN’T MAKE US SICK. TIMES ARE DEFINELY CHANGING NOW THERES HEPATITIS, TB,CANCER, AIDS,MALERIA, SMALL POXS, AND SO MANY MORE TOO MUCH TOO WRITE DOWN. YES, THERE IS A GOD , I’M A CHRISTAIN AND MY GOAL IN LIFE IS MAKING PEOPLE HAPPY,HELPING OUT STRANGERS, GIVING FOOD TOO THE POOR. I’M NOT RICH EITHER BUT I WANNA DO GOOD WHILE I’M ON THIS EARTH THAN WHEN THE TIME COMES THAT I’M CALLED HOME I’LL BE READY WITH OPEN ARMS. THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR STORY WILL PRAY FOR ALL THESE PEOPLE. LIVE, LAUGH,LOVE OFTEN.

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