Down-home Diva Finds Strength and Comfort in Prayer

A popular actress's successful life and career are firmly grounded in a bedrock of family and faith.

By Kristin Chenoweth, Los Angeles, California

As appeared in

I’ve never been shy. And I’m definitely not shy about my faith. I grew up in the Bible Belt, in Oklahoma. I’m a Christian and proud of it. I’ve sung about it, mentioned it on talk shows and it’s been an important part of some of the characters I’ve played.

In the new ABC show Good Christian Belles, about a group of women who grew up together in a Dallas church, I play Carlene. She’s a bit of a villain and stirs things up, which is certainly not me (it’s just acting, okay?).

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But just because I’m frank about my faith doesn’t mean I’ve got everything all figured out. I struggle too. We all do. It’s kind of like developing your vocal range when you’re a singer. You’ve got to experience the highs and lows in life to develop your spiritual range and grow in your faith. Stick with me here and I’ll tell you what I mean.

Keep asking the questions.
My Grandma Chenoweth was one of the most fervent, loving Christians I’ve ever known. She had friends in every denomination. Or as we used to say back home, she was a Southern Baptist who played canasta with the Methodists and dominoes with the Church of Christ-ers. In every tough situation she’d do what I’d call a Jesus test to figure out what was the right thing to do. And this was years before WWJD came along.

When Grandma died, her friends kept bringing us food to comfort us, lemon bars and shoofly pie and every casserole known to man (church-lady cuisine is something I sure miss out in Hollywood). Later we went through her things: her jewelry, her hats, her purses, her handkerchiefs. But her Bible was the real treasure.

I’d always heard that you could tell how important the word of God was to a person by looking at their Bible. Grandma’s had a crocheted cover she made herself (it needed a cover because it had gotten so worn and dog-eared over the years) and had notes in her handwriting on practically every page.

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"I don’t understand this verse and need some help," Grandma would write or "I tried to do this and it’s hard for me" or "This is my cross to bear" or "I need to pray about this" or "I’m not sure I’m in 100 percent agreement here." Sometimes she had questions for her minister, sometimes for God, and all of her questions and notes showed what a real relationship she had with the Lord. Nothing was taken for granted. Belief was something she worked at and lived.

I’ve got my own questions for God, everything from "Why is forgiveness so hard?" and "Why do people get cancer?" to "Where on earth do the mates to my socks disappear to?" Sure, I’d love to know the answers one day, but I learned from Grandma that what matters is to keep asking the questions. Write them down, talk to friends and to your minister, and pray your way through them.

Pray big.
I pray all the time. Sometimes I think I pray too much, if that’s possible. I pray for my mom and my dad, my brother and my sister-in-law. I pray if I have to travel (I have the worst travel luck and I just hate to fly). I pray for my friends. I pray for complete strangers.

Jesus said we’re supposed to pray for those who mistreat us. Not long ago I was feeling mighty mistreated by a flight attendant who bumped me from the seat I’d bought (I got delayed in security) and then wouldn’t help me get my bag in the overhead bin (hey, when you’re not even five feet tall, it’s hard to reach up there!). I told her I’d pray for her. Lord knows, we both needed it.

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What’s really important is to make your prayers big, to ask for things that go deep and seem impossible. You might even get more than you ask for. I’ll tell you a story:

Some years ago in the town of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, there was a young couple who had a son and longed for a daughter to round out their family. Then the wife was told she needed to have a hysterectomy and wouldn’t be able to conceive again. She and her husband put their names on every adoption list they could find but hadn’t gotten any calls. She knew the wait would be long, maybe forever. Still, she prayed and prayed for a little girl. The day came when she checked into the hospital for surgery.

At that very same hospital, a young unmarried flight attendant (no connection to the one I just mentioned, of course) was about to give birth to a baby she planned to give up for adoption. Her doctor had helped line up a loving couple to adopt and raise the baby. Then that wife discovered to her surprise that she was pregnant. "Please let the baby go to another couple," she told her doctor. The ob-gyn consulted the young couple from Broken Arrow. "You mean we could have our new baby now?" they asked. Absolutely, they were told. And wouldn’t you know, that baby turned out to be a girl?

"I went into the hospital to have surgery," my mother liked to tell me, "and I came home with you." I marvel at how many people’s prayers were answered: my parents’, the couple who was originally going to adopt the baby, my birth mother’s.

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Leave it up to God.
Remember I said I have trouble flying? Did I mention it’s partly because I get migraines and I have this disease with a big fancy name called Ménière’s that makes motion sickness seem like a walk in the park?

The first time it hit me was 15 years ago. I was in New York City, rehearsing a Broadway musical called Steel Pier. I woke up that morning with a ringing in my ears, got out of bed and landed on the floor. The ground was tilting at a 90-degree angle and the walls were coming at me. I crawled to the bathroom and got very sick. So sick I was convinced I had a brain tumor or a stroke.

I peeled myself off of the bathroom floor and called my mom. She came to New York and went with me to countless doctors’ appointments. I had all kinds of tests. Nothing showed up in a CT-scan. The doctors ruled out brain tumors and strokes, but they couldn’t quite figure out the diagnosis. They decided it was some sort of vertigo and it would go away. It did, but then it came back six months later. And again and again after that.

How could I go on performing with my ears ringing and the floor rolling like the deck of a storm-tossed boat? I prayed hard about it, and I recalled something my beloved voice teacher, Florence Birdwell, said to me back at Oklahoma City University when I had strep throat and wanted to back out of a competition.

"You can’t make excuses in the real world," she said. "People will have more respect for you if you sing through it. Just do your best." So that’s what I did in show after show like You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and the incredibly popular Wicked and as Miss Noodle on Sesame Street and in my own short-lived TV show, Kristin.

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Finally I got a diagnosis: Ménière’s disease. According to the medical literature, it’s "an inner ear disturbance that causes vertigo," which sounds so much milder than it is. There is no cure or relief with the possible exception of a surgical procedure called a cochleosacculotomy (another fancy word). I can’t risk that because it could cause hearing loss.

So I do what I can to control Ménière’s without surgery. I limit the sodium in my diet. I sleep on an incline (you can imagine how popular this makes me with hotel staffs). I take anti-nausea medication. When I’m feeling really sick, I call up my mom and my six aunts and ask them to pray for me, sometimes right there on the phone.

I’ve got a magnet on my fridge that says, "Good morning, this is God. You don’t need to worry about all your problems. I will be handling them today." That’s what I do with the terrible brain-churning, room-spinning, think-you’re-gonna-die problem of Ménière’s. If the misery is on a scale of one to 10, I’ve discovered I can still perform at a six or seven.

Doctors have asked, "How do you do it?" How do you walk onstage, let alone dance, if the ground is swaying beneath you and you think you’re going to throw up? I’ll ask, "Why me?" a hundred times. I’ll say, "This is my cross to bear." In the end, though, I leave the whole thing in God’s hands. I just hand it over and let it go.

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One of my favorite Bible stories is when Jacob wrestles with the angel. He won’t let go until he gets the angel’s blessing. "You seem so happy" people say to me, and it’s true, I’m usually upbeat. Still, staying positive takes work. It doesn’t always come easy. I get depressed, I gripe, I get into a perfectionist’s funk.

And yet I’m thankful every day. For my family, my friends, my career, my voice, even for setbacks and struggles like this nasty disease that I wish would go away. I believe in wrestling that angel to the ground until I can claim my blessing.

Like my grandma, I have lots of questions, but I’ve never doubted that God is listening to me. I know I’ll get the answers to most of my questions someday—and maybe I’ll even find out where all of my missing socks are.

Learn Five Things You Didn't Know About Kristin Chenoweth.

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Your Comments (16)

Thank you, Kristin, for your openness about your faith and your illness. Too many celebrities only reveal a medical struggle once cured, giving false hope that there is complete healing in this life. It is inspiring for those of us living with chronic illness to look at someone like you and see, "Yes, it is possible to live WITH illness," our pain a constant reminder to turn to our Maker and Redeemer. Thank you for your honesty and for your living example.

What an inspiring story! I am newly diagnosed with Menier's and I am so scared that it is going to get worse. I am having mild episodes right now and it seems to be responding REMARKABLY well to low sodium, Maxzide, and klonopin. Keep raising awareness and maybe we will have a cure one day : )

How God had a plan B for me...

Honolulu Community College student discovers art to deal with abuse
Solina Wilhelm's art to be featured at the Honolulu Academy of Arts
Honolulu Community College
Chancellor's Office

Solina Wilhelm in the VSA program
HONOLULU -- Artist Solina Wilhelm, is a product of rape, was abused, abandoned, is living with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and most recently, was severely injured in a hit-and-run car accident. While looking for her husband’s class at Honolulu Community College faith would have her run into art instructor Rebecca Horne who recognized Wilhelm’s suffering. After a heart-to-heart talk, Horne encouraged her to enroll into art classes.

The following semester, Wilhelm attended her first art class at Honolulu CC and she continues to awe audiences today. Her collection consists of watercolor paintings, acrylics, mixed media, sculptures, ceramics, oils paintings, photography and much more. Wilhelm sees something and desires to learn how it was created. She then makes it her own by putting her life experiences in each creation, telling a very personal story. "It is important that I do it with my heart. Each work of art is a gift from me and my heart needs to be in it,” she explains.

Wilhelm is currently studying art at the Honolulu Academy of Arts VSA (Vision, Strength and Artistic access) program under the instruction of Creative Director Kathleen O' Bryan. The program allows Wilhelm to take art class, fosters opportunities for her to sell her work, and allows her to learn about being an artist so that she can independently generate income.

Beginning on Friday, July 8, Wilhelm’s artwork will be on display at the Honolulu Academy of Arts for an entire month. The public is welcome to a special opening event at 5 p.m. Her artwork – "Solina Wilhelm: From The Inside Out" and "The Art of Solina Wilhelm" – is featured on YouTube.

“I am forever grateful to Ms. Horne and Honolulu Community College for helping me discover my talent. Now I have a platform to help, not only myself but others as well, heal from the pain and suffering endured in my life,” shares Wilhelm.

Kristin, I am a 77 year old widow and I have a problem with Meniere's, as well, and have found that when the first symptoms come, if I pop a couple of capsules of Ginger Root, within about 15 minuets, things are balanced out!!! You might try that!... So, may God continue to use you to bless others as He has been doing and let His Light shine out of your soul to bring joy to others. In His love, Ann

Dear Editors,
I enjoyed reading this article. If possible, please let Kristin know that many people with Meniere's are now being treated with antivirals (as mentioned by another poster above). This is a groundbreaking treatment that many doctors are unaware of. Please direct her to this study:

The author of the study (Dr. Richard Gacek) helped my husband recover from Meniere's. My husband followed his treatment plan and is now living a normal life after being totally incapacitated for months by vertigo and the other symptoms of Meniere's. I pray that Kristin will someday find the same relief.

I'm really blessed by your story. I hope you will be totally healed from your disease. You are a blessing to a lot of people. Keep writing inspirational stories that will strengthen people's faith. God bless you more!

Hello Kristin: As a retired Doctor of Chiropractic, and author of two wellness books, I found your faith-led story extremely interesting. After 38 years of practice, both in the U.S. and abroad, I've had the privilege of caring for many Meniere conditions. Most of these cases develop from forgotten childhood injurys to the head or neck. The condition can lie dormant for years. Childhood injuries such as falling off a bike, hitting ones head on a chair as an infant begins to walk, etc., can each traumatize the spine and affect the delicate balance in the neck. The result is nerve blockage to the inner ear. My first book, What Your Doctor Never Told You, (Amazon) shares my personal experience with a similar condition and the miracle cure that came from a famous chiropractor. I hope and pray that you would consult a DC for this condition. God bless you as you continue to witness you faith.

Hi Kristin! I inherited my Grandmother's Bible, and what a treasure. Her Bible and an oil lamp is all I have of hers, and my memories. They remind me of a song we learned when she took me to her church (This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, all the time!) She lived to be 94 and boy did she let her light shine, as she was a minister for the Church of God for 60 years. (she was 4'11" but boy, God put fire and love in that small body, and she could preach.) I remember healing services, so I want to pray that God will heal your disorder completely. Believe in faith that He can, and He will. "Through his stripes, we are healed" and with the faith of a mustard seed all things are possible thru Christ.

I know of many miracles that seemed impossible, and I want you to have your own miracle, Kristin. Sometime in her 50's my Grandmother, Pearl, had uterine cancer. She never received treatment, but prayed for God to heal her, because she wanted to continue to do Gods work, and had some traveling to do with her ministry. God healed her completely and she lived to preach for 40 more years. God is good, and nothing is too big for Him.

God bless you.
Lainey in NC

I am not sure if Kristin Chenoweth actually reads these comments, I am sure she is very busy. But in case you do read this, Miss Chenoweth, I want you to know that I am a great fan of yours and I also have the same illness. My mom sent me this article in an email and for some reason I had discarded it without ever reading it or even knowing what or who it was about. She called and asked if I had read it and I replied that I hadn't. Once she told me what it was about I decided to go back and read it. I too grew up and remain a Christian although my faith has wavered. There are times when I am lying in bed so dizzy and sick that I can't move and I find myself praying. I pray for God to make it stop, I pray for relief...and recently, my prayers had been answered, temporarily. I want to suggest to you, if you haven't tried it already, ask your ENT about antiviral medications. Many ENTs do not know the power or choose to ignore the power of this medication. You see, I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama and my husband and I moved to Mobile, Alabama because he received a job. I found an ENT which I believe is why my husband was able to get this job. I think it was part of God's plan all along to unite me with an ENT that was able to provide me with some relief, although the relief was short lived. After being put on antivirals, my "episodes" is what I call them, went from once every two weeks to once a month and I didn't have as many dizzy days in between. The vertigo and nausea has returned and along with it so has the depression because I am unable to drive or work and I am attending college online without the guarantee that I will ever be able to do anything with my degree because of this pesky meniere's. However, I am also a part of a meniere's support group and many of them have had greater success with the antivirals. They are ground breaking and they may help you. I wish you the best and I will pray for relief for you. Thank you for uplifting my day.

I just read Kristin Chenoweth, story. I would like to know if you plan to have this saying put on a magnet for the refrigerator. I know I could use, and maybe, others to help start their day.

Thank you

"Good morning, this is God. You don’t need to worry about all your problems. I will be handling them today."

Thank you so much Miss Chenoweth. I need to remember all. You are truely inspiring.Thank you. God Bless.

Kristin, I don't normally read these stories in Guideposts but since I'm a United Methodist, now living in OKC (originally from Missouri) I read your story. I can remember my grandmother had a Bible with writing in it but never saw what she had written. I'm thankful I don't have meniere's just heart trouble (two heart attacks) but have outlived my dad by 9+ years.

Thank you, Ms. Chenoweth. Your story is a wonderful reminder that I don't have to be perfect to come to God, I come to Him to seek spiritual perfection. Oh yes, I too pray for strangers...many drivers have gone on down the road with my blessing! LOL

In your story about Kristin Chenoweth condition of
Meniears. I have had this condition for several years.
I have found relief from a local Dr.Jean Yu using a RX of herbs. It's the only thing that keeps me on my feet!!! My general MD even sent his wife to her and found help.

If this might be helpful for Kristian Chenoweth I would appreciate you contacting her.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Linda Boyd

Linda, we'll pass this along. Thank you for your care and concern. And we're so glad to hear you have found relief. All the best to you. -- The Editors

Your short, funny, life story is a blessing. It reminds me that the steadfast and faithful character of our Lord is not changed by our worries. We just need to have faith in Him.

God bless!