Cam Ayala: As Romans 5 suggests, there is going to be suffering in your life. And through the suffering, you can grow through it. Everything that God gives you, God can get you through it. So if you are struggling with your faith and you’re struggling with your identity because you feel your identity is rooted in who you were, you are forgiven, you are loved, and Christ has gone before you.
Finding Peace in Times of Turmoil: Cam Ayala & Tiania Haneline and Scarlett Smith – Episode #339
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. There is much talk of turmoil in our world, and we see it reflected in what we read, watch, and observe in the media. Sometimes this turmoil shows up directly in our lives—whether it’s negative words toward us from others, untruths about who we are and what we stand for, or other negative situations that undermine our self worth and identity. As we face words meant to harm and hurt us, we can know there is refuge when it feels like it’s us against the world. A verse in the Bible from John 16 tells us that God is our source of peace, also reminding us “in the world you have tribulation. But take heart—God has overcome the world.”
Our guests this week saw their lives—and the world around them—in turmoil, and found themselves turning to God for the peace that can only come from seeking to be in His presence. Cam Ayala, who starred on ABC’s The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise shares about how his struggle with a lifelong illness was used on the show to portray him in a negative light, and how after the show ended, his faith would uphold him through the biggest decision he would ever have to face about his health and his identity. Social media influencer Tiania Haneline and her five-year-old daughter Scarlett Smith started a positive affirmation routine that has taken the internet by storm. Tiania shares how speaking kind words to her daughter each day is creating a lifelong habit of facing negativity with positivity.
Let’s start with Cam’s story.
Cam: My name is Cam Ayala, short for Cameron, and I am thirty-three years old. I currently live in a small city called Houston, Texas, born and raised here. And I am a lymphedema patient advocate as well as an amputee patient advocate. And you may have seen me on The Bachelorette with Hannah Brown or on Bachelor in Paradise.
A Lymphedema Diagnosis for Young Cam
As a child, I mostly focused on sports. I played baseball, basketball, and football, but my main love was basketball. So as a kid, I had major dreams and goals of playing in junior high, high school, college, and then even the NBA. That’s what I had my heart set on.
Growing up, I was a very competitive athlete in multiple sports. But when I was about eleven years old, fifth grade summer going into the sixth grade, I was playing some summer league basketball. About halfway through the season, I started having really bad lower back pain at the end of every game, and it almost looked like I was skipping when I was running up and down the court. And after seeing an orthopedic doctor, when he did the X-rays, he could tell that my right leg was an inch and a half shorter than my left, and there was some weird spotting on my right knee that could have been cancerous. So immediately the doctor wanted to do an emergency bone biopsy surgery, which was basically their way of finding what was going on in my leg. Fortunately, it was not cancer, but unfortunately, several weeks after that surgery, my right leg started to swell pretty progressively.
And it got to the point where my right leg was about four to five times larger than my left leg. And at the time, we must have gone to over a dozen specialists in the Houston area. And fortunately, there are some of the most renowned specialists in the world at the Texas Medical Center, which is in Houston. And after about a year of searching, I was finally diagnosed with a disease called primary lymphedema.
It is a very complex disease. Essentially lymphedema can happen when you have a compromised lymphatic system. So I was born with it, and I started to have those really bad progressive swelling symptoms after my surgery when I was eleven. So anytime I had a bout of infection, the doctors would have to go in, open up my knee joint, try to remove as much of the infectious fluid and infectious bone as they could, sew me back up, put me on strong antibiotics, and then go to physical therapy. So basically from 2014 until the year 2021, I had had sixteen different surgeries on my right knee.
Embracing Your Truth in the Face of Lies
When I first went on The Bachelorette, truthfully, I was not a self-identifying Christian. And really I didn’t have a strong faith or honestly a relationship with Jesus at that time. There, on The Bachelorette, was the first time that I publicly talked about my disease I have lived with since I was eleven years old.
And as I was basically pouring my heart out and talking to Hannah about my disease, there was another man in the mansion who, a few moments later after that conversation, basically told her I was making up this medical sob story to get a pity rose and stay around. And I was essentially eliminated that night.
Unfortunately, most of the audience, which was over eight million at the time who watched the show, kind of saw me as a villain. And I was not going to allow how the show portrayed me to really dictate who I was as an individual.
I started becoming an ambassador for a nonprofit that deals with lymphedema patients, and that’s really where I found my calling, that Christ was leading me into this environment of helping patients who didn’t know how to help themselves, being their voice, utilizing this platform that I was just given. You know, God always has a way of showing His way if you are opening your heart and seeking that light. I finally renewed my relationship with Christ in the beginning of 2020.
“God always has a way of showing His way if you are opening your heart and seeking that light.” – Cam Ayala
Cam Faces a Pivotal Health Choice
One of the unfortunate side effects, if you will, of having lymphedema is chronic recurrences of infections, and the infections can vary in their severity from patient to patient. But for me, I have had these recurrences of an infection called osteomyelitis, and basically in a nutshell, that means a recurrence of infection of the bone.
By then, I had gotten to the point where we could try one last-ditch effort to basically salvage my leg, which was to have a total knee replacement. I did the total knee replacement, and unfortunately, after a year of doing physical therapy and trying to regain my mobility, it turns out the knee replacement was not performed properly. In essence, the hardware placed in my knee was the wrong size, and unfortunately it was positioned wrong. So it was clarity that I wasn’t crazy, and I was really busting my tail in physical therapy. But when you have a mechanical issue, you can’t really do much about that.
So then, I was forced with the decision of whether or not to do a total knee revision, which would require three more surgeries—I’ve already had sixteen at that point. So what’s nineteen? Or I could be a little bit more aggressive and radical, and do above knee amputation, knowing that that would be a major lifestyle adjustment but it would hopefully remove the chronic pain I was experiencing as well as the recurrence of infection.
I spent over three months researching the recovery time for amputation. I reached out to dozens of amputee patients who were my age and had similar experiences to try to get some counseling. I got really, really involved with my local church, and I have a small men’s group who just surrounded me with prayer and encouragement. And, you know, even my relationship with Jesus grew through that, because through all of these trials and tribulations and surgeries and pains and heartbreaks and going through seasons of life as basically an atheist, I knew that reigniting my relationship with Jesus was going to be the only way I would make it through this [amputation] surgery and through the rest of my life. I had tried doing things on my own accord, trying to be my own strong, independent man. But time and time again, I felt that my own personal strength was insufficient.
“I knew that reigniting my relationship with Jesus was going to be the only way that I would make it through this [amputation] surgery and through the rest of my life.” – Cam Ayala
So when I re-gave my life to Christ—I’m a firm believer that there is Christ in all of us and Christ has gone before us. And there’s Scripture that says, “When we are weak, He is strong.” [2 Corinthians 2:9–11] And so really leaning on the strength of Christ in me was more than enough to get me through some of the toughest physical adversities that I had faced in previous surgeries.
“There’s Scripture that says, ‘When we are weak, He is strong.’ So leaning on the strength of Christ in me was more than enough to get me through some of the toughest physical adversities.” – Cam Ayala
Why Not Me?
So when I first woke up from the anesthesia [on the] day of the operation, one of the instructions I gave the nursing staff as they were transporting me from my surgical bed to the bed that I had in my hospital recovery room was that I had my sleep mask on so my eyes were closed and covered, because I didn’t want to look down at my residual limb the very first night. So as they laid me in my hospital bed, I made them put a pillow vertically where my right leg used to be. So when the blanket was over me, it appeared that I had both of my limbs.
The very next day, I had my pastor from my church come in. Nothing could have prepared me for that first moment of laying there in my hospital bed, just being there with my pastor, Eric, and knowing that Christ was in there with us. Removing that blanket and looking down at my residual limb was a moment where everything just became so real. I was officially an amputee.
If I’m honest, I was angry for several minutes. There was no turning back the hands of time where I had both of my legs just hours prior. But my pastor prayed over me and very quickly I kind of snapped out of that Why me? mentality. I snapped out of that anger. I snapped out of the tears. It was quickly met with a joke. My pastor had gotten me a book and also he had gotten me a sock. Yes, a single sock. Not a pair of socks. And he’s like, “I figured you wouldn’t need the other one.” So levity and laughter and humor has always been one of my coping mechanisms.
There was one group of friends who came in with this super big gift basket that had things from jerky, to sour candy, to coloring books, to magazines, to regular books. And in particular, one thing that I reached out to was the Jesus Calling Note-Taking Edition. What I love best about this is that it not only gives you an opportunity—just like really any of the Jesus Calling editions have—to reflect on the devotional, but to actually take notes, to put pen or pencil to paper, then read that devotional and to write down what it means to you. So this was an awesome opportunity to deeply connect with each devotional and write what it meant to me in that moment. So a year from now, a week from now, or whenever I choose to go back and reread those devotionals and my headspace in that time, it’s going to be a beautiful, nostalgic moment.But really, I was also overwhelmed with this sense of gratitude. And I strongly believe that was the Holy Spirit igniting in me because, you know, oftentimes we have this Why me? mentality when we’re struck with a difficult season or situation in our lives. But very quickly after the pity and the anger got out of my head, I then had that headspace, Well, why not me? I’m a firm believer that God gives His toughest battles to His toughest warriors, and that with a loss like this, of a limb, is going to come a great gain in what Jesus is going to do with me, through me, to me, and ultimately for other people to bear witness to.
“I’m a firm believer that God gives His toughest battles to His toughest warriors.” – Cam Ayala
Turning Pain Into Strength
You know, it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to have tears of anger. It’s okay to grapple with your relationship with God. I mean, the Bible wants us to do that. God wants us to do that, because it’s in those moments where you have those doubts or you have those uncertainties or you have the frustration you can then form an even stronger, more genuine relationship with God, because you will find the answers, right? You seek as the Bible tells us to.
I was reading a passage today from one of my Jesus Calling devotionals, and it talks about seeking God with your whole heart—not your half heart, your whole heart. And when you have a rock bottom moment like I’ve had, you then learn what your whole heart truly encompasses. So that would be one of my main takeaways from this journey thus far, knowing that God is with you and that when you seek Him wholeheartedly, He will be there to get you through some of the most difficult seasons or moments in your life.
“When you seek Him wholeheartedly, He will be there to get you through some of the most difficult seasons or moments in your life.” – Cam Ayala
Though my limbs are incomplete for the time here I have left on this earth, my soul is not incomplete because I have Christ in me. And I know He has gone before me, and there’s an opportunity to turn my pain into strength and to use my platform to inspire another amputee patient, another lymphedema patient. I can inspire any individual who is going through a rough season in their life where they have doubts with their relationship with God, they have doubts about what they can physically accomplish in sport or in profession or in dating. So really, that’s what this recent experience has taught me not only about myself, but about my relationship with Jesus and how turning everything over to Him has given me more clarity, more peace, and more confidence as I’m navigating this new life of mine.
Narrator: You can see what Cam is up to these days by following him on his Instagram page.
Stay tuned to Tiania Haneline and Scarlett Smith’s story after a brief message.
Follow the Bible in a year with Jack Graham!
Begin your New Year’s Resolution with the Bible, and see why millions have already started Bible in a Year with Jack Graham. This podcast was created to help you solidify your faith as you experience the story of the Bible through live-action recordings and emotional, orchestral music.
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Narrator: Our next guests are Tiania Haneline and Scarlett Smith, a mother and her young daughter who became known for injecting positivity into the world through their uplifting videos on TikTok. Their simple affirmations, often recorded while Tiania is doing Scarlett’s hair or as they are walking together, include phrases they repeat to each other such as, “I am beautiful,” “I am a good friend,” “I love my brown skin,” “I am worthy,” and “Jesus loves me.” Thousands have responded to the encouraging words, and Tiania speaks to how this practice is creating joy and confidence in her life and the life of her daughter.
Tiania Haneline: Hi, my name is Tiania Haneline, and I am a content creator along with my daughter. We love making videos together. We love inspiring people and do a lot of affirmations and a lot of fun things on our platforms.
A Legacy of Affirmation
My dad loved to affirm us. I believe that’s where I got all of my affirmations from. Growing up, he would always be like, “You are beautiful. You’re so strong.” But he never got me to repeat them. And I believe that’s why I am affirming to others, and that’s why I crave affirmation.
As I grew up, my sister was very affirming to me as well. Because our dad was affirming to us, we both were affirming to each other. Any time that she didn’t feel like she was pretty or I didn’t feel like I was pretty, we always would affirm each other, and same thing now, her and I are both influencers and any time she’s like frustrated with something, I always make sure to affirm her or vice versa with me.
So with my kids, with my boys, I always was affirming to them, but I never got them to repeat them after me. And then when Scarlett was born, I was like, Maybe she needs to repeat these after me so she can really believe them.
I believe the reason why [affirmation] is so important with our generation now is because I feel like there’s a lot more going on now than there was back in the day when I was growing up, with everything from bullying to racism. I know it was definitely apparent back in the day, but for me, having a biracial child, you see it more often. So I think it is very important for my children and myself to have these affirmations to instill in us. So whenever Scarlett has someone in her class who says that they don’t like her hair, you know, she can come back with, “Well, I love my hair.” So I just want them to be able to take what I have taught them and be able to use it in the real world.
“I think it is very important for my children and myself to have these affirmations to instill in us. . . . I just want them to be able to take what I have taught them and be able to use it in the real world.” – Tiania Haneline
From Childhood Affirmations to Nationally Seen Videos
I have always [liked] to video, so I’ve always had a camera since I was like fifteen years old.
I started doing affirmations with Scarlett when she was three. As Scarlett was getting older, I would always take pictures of her and videos of her, and when 2020, the pandemic happened, I started making videos on TikTok. And then all of a sudden, I saw all of these different things happening and the climate that we were in, I was like, Okay, I can do this and maybe this would help someone.
Basically, I was like, “Okay, Scarlett, I want you to start repeating these things after me.” I got Scarlett to look at herself in the mirror while I was doing her hair, and I was like, This is going to be able to show her [how to say] “I love my curls, I love my brown skin. I am strong, I am beautiful.” That is the reason why we went into social media and started to really push content out there of me doing that. And it was very natural for us.
“I got Scarlett to look at herself in the mirror while I was doing her hair, and I was like, This is going to be able to show her [how to say] “I love my curls, I love my brown skin. I am strong, I am beautiful.” – Tiania Haneline
The amount of love and support—and actually the amount of people who had no idea what an affirmation was, I was like, Oh, my gosh, this is what we are supposed to be doing. We get so much love and so much support from so many people of all ages saying either they wish that their parents had done that for them and they wouldn’t hate their curls, or older women saying, “I never even thought about doing this with my kids.” Or young women that haven’t had children yet saying, “I’m going to make sure I do this with my kids.”
Scarlett’s Daily Affirmations
Scarlett: It makes me feel good when Mommy does my affirmations. I like spending time with Mommy when she does my hair, and I love her.
I’m beautiful. I’m strong. I’m not fearful. I love my curls. Jesus loves me. And I’m going to have a good day.
“I’m beautiful. I’m strong. I’m not fearful. I love my curls. Jesus loves me. And I’m going to have a good day.” – Scarlett Smith
Tiania: With having all of these different affirmations, as Scarlett goes through throughout the day, I believe it’s very relatable to other children who may go through the same things as Scarlett goes through.
She uses her affirmations when she’s kind of fearful of things. She was afraid of this little dog, but she was like, “I am not fearful.” And so that literally helped her not be afraid of this little dog. Her confidence from three until five—she’s almost six now—is a huge difference.
Reaching People Through Social Media
My prayer right now is that I will raise my children up to follow Jesus and to be amazing women and men. And also my prayer is that we will reach more people through our social media. A lot of people have come to know Jesus through our social media.
“My prayer right now is that I will raise my children up to follow Jesus and to be amazing women and men.” – Tiania Haneline
The importance of talking to Jesus daily for me is—basically, it’s like an ongoing conversation with Him all day, because I honestly don’t know how I would get through half of my day without it. So I feel like it brings me a calmness and a peace.[Jesus Listens, February 18th]
Cherished Lord Jesus,
While I sit quietly in Your Presence, please fill my heart and mind with thankfulness. This is a most delightful way to spend time with You. When my mind needs a focal point, I can gaze at Your Love poured out for me on the cross. I need to remember that neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation can separate me from Your Love. This remembrance builds a foundation of gratitude in me—a foundation that circumstances cannot shake.
As I go through this day, I want to find all the treasures You have placed along my way. I know that You lovingly go before me and plant little pleasures to brighten my day. I’ll look carefully for these blessings and pluck them one by one. Then when I reach the end of the day, I will have gathered a lovely bouquet. I’ll offer it up to You, Lord, with gratitude in my heart. As I lie down to sleep, help me relax in Your Presence and receive Your Peace—with thankful thoughts playing a lullaby in my mind.
In Your soothing Name,
Narrator: To learn more about Tiania and Scarlett, follow them on social media. And be sure to check out their book, I’m Going to Have a Good Day! Daily Affirmations with Scarlett, on sale January 24th.
If you’d like to hear more stories about finding confidence in our faith, check out our interview with Trey Johnson.
Next week: Tom Schueman
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from US Marine Tom Schueman, who faced several near death experiences during combat situations, and he encourages people to lean on God for strength in their own daily battles.
Tom Schueman: Everybody in life is going to get ambushed. Everybody in life is going to have something traumatic happen: cancer, car accident, a miscarriage. Something is going to happen that we weren’t expecting. And how can we be more resilient as we move through life so that these ambushes cause less damage?