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Collisions

 

Yesterday, I filmed some devotions to go with my new book. It was a pretty involved process since we needed lots of them and each one requires several takes.  By the time I fell into bed last night, the whole experience was still buzzing around my brain to the degree that I dreamt about it. And in my dream, as soon as I was done filming a video, the tech crew would remove it from the camera and pour it into a feeding tube.

 

Now, I’m no dream analyst, but it would seem my work-life and my home-life are colliding.

 

This dueling focus between my investment in the career that I love and the man & family I adore is a battlefield for me.  I have chosen to stay committed to work and writing during Steve’s illness for a variety of reasons, but the main one is: I feel certain this is the will of God for my life.   I know many spouses who quit their jobs and devote themselves entirely to the care of their beloved.  Others walk away from the marriage entirely (and I have to assume that’s a result of preexisting issues in the relationship and not just because of the diagnosis.)  This decision to embrace both caregiving and career is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and some days I feel my toes dangling over the edge of that great and terrible cliff called burnout.  Some days I feel certain God has overestimated me.  So when I want to call in sick to my life, I have to keep reminding myself of a few primary truths and they are thus:

 

  1. The call of God comes bundled up with the resources we need to accomplish that call.  He equips us in the same way we equip our kids with the right backpack on the first day of school.
  2. I don’t have to do this perfectly to do it well.  Screw ups are part of the landscape and that’s okay. In a season of life when the watching world is being so generous with their approval (i.e. we hear a lot about how inspiring we are), I am living in undeniable proximity to my own inadequacies.  My dumb mistakes and obnoxious self-centeredness smack me in the face on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.  It is built-in humility.  And I’m grateful because I am old enough to have seen the profound impact humility makes on those who hope to change the world.
  3. He will not be in debt to me.  I can easily play the martyr (“I just give and give and give….”) but sometimes when it’s quiet and I’m surveying the blessings our great Creator has piled on my life, all I can do is whisper, “You’re outrageous.”  His love has been lavished over me in handfuls and heaps and I will never be able to pay Him back.  He will not be in debt me.  Not ever.

 

 

So, I’m thankful today to serve the One who came to bring  ever-increasing levels of peace into our collision-course existence.  He is God at the intersection of too much and not enough, of sorrow and celebration, of beauty and ashes.  He is God at the corner of Saturday work and Sabbath rest.  He is.  And we are His.

 

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

 

 

July 29, 2014 - 1:12 pm

Sherri - Amen.

Two Roads Diverged

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Back when Steve and I were both healthy, I occasionally thought about what it might be like if one of us got sick (**see footnote below). I imagined many of the challenges that might go along with a terminal diagnosis and I was right about some of it  – but I missed a big one completely.

 

One of the most difficult things about navigating a marriage around ALS (for me, at least – I certainly don’t speak for everyone) is that for the first time ever in our relationship, we are heading different places.

 

Our 29 years together have been filled with up’s, down’s and a whole lot of middle’s.  We have not done marriage perfectly by a long shot, but the one thing we’ve always contended for in our relationship is unity of purpose.  We have really tried to have the same goals in mind:  raise happy, healthy kids, upgrade the car, improve our education, serve with excellence, etc.  We are a good team because, while we disagree on plenty of shallow things (he likes oysters.  Ew. How can I agree with that?), we always agree on the big things and we help each other believe that we can get where we’re going.  We’ve had to adjust our course through the years, but we’ve always adjusted together.

 

But when Steve was given a 2-5 year prognosis, it was like we both heard the word “recalculating” spoken independently to each one of us. From my vantage point, Steve’s journey is far more difficult than mine, but his destination is much more beautiful. He’s moving toward resolution.  Toward the ultimate cure. Toward a life that is unknown and yet not – we know it will be beyond all dreams or imaginations.  He has no decisions to make about his future life which I know is both unsettling and comforting.  My destination is also a mystery, but I feel so responsible for it and for the children who trust me to lead them.  I feel like I’m entering a world with no map and without my trusty sidekick who’s helped me with directions for 30 years. He’s also made the journey really fun. So I can’t say that where I’m headed looks in any way dreamy.

 

And yet, I have this assurance that circles through my brain when I start to feel suffocated by thoughts of an unknown reality and you already know what it is because I say it here all the time.  The God I’ve chosen to follow has already been to every minute of my life.  He knows where our respective roads are going and I do believe He calls them both, “good”.  He has good plans for me and beautiful plans for Steve. He’s always known where the road will take us, and He’s not wringing His hands in heaven over the fact that the details look murky to me.

 

So, we walk, Steve and I.  We walk together.  I help him get where he’s going and he helps me.  He talks with me about what to do with the house and the kids.  He has father-son talks with Corey about how to help me navigate the road ahead. He generously sows into a future he may only see from the balconies of heaven.  And these conversations?  They are painful. Yipes, they are painful.  They are filled with rolling tears and gaspy sobs (me – all me, Steve doesn’t cry about this stuff).  They are filled with brutal, raw-edged beauty that I will remember always as the most intimate moments I have ever shared with the love of my life.

 

I don’t have a clever application point to end this with.  I can’t tie it all together for people who are not steering their way through the Shadowy Valley.  I only share it to point to the goodness of God in a world of uncertainty.  Also, as a marker I can return to when I wonder where the heck I’m going and where is that map and how do I read this compass anyway?  I hope it gives you hope that you can find your way as well.  A verse to end with seems like a good idea:

 

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. 2 Timothy 1:12

 

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

 

 

**Note to healthy people:  try not to do that.  Just enjoy being healthy.  And if you DO imagine tragedy, just remember: you can imagine the pain, but you can’t imagine the grace that comes with it.  That’s all.

 

 

July 25, 2014 - 9:11 am

Patti Bryant - Bo, you always manage to bring a smile to my face, put a tear in my eye, affirm the hope in my heart and re-focus my eyes on Jesus. You are the real deal girl! Sending you a hug and always praying.

July 25, 2014 - 9:13 am

Jami Steeley - Beautifully written Bo. As a woman who is struggling with her own painful road, I’ve been reminded of the hope in my future because of my God whom I love and follow. So thank you. You and Steve are always in my prayers.

July 25, 2014 - 9:44 am

Jennifer - Love your sweet, humble words of truth. God is so good.

July 25, 2014 - 9:52 am

Sherri - With tears of joy and hope…Thank you, Bo.

July 25, 2014 - 9:58 am

Helen Washington - God knows our roads and ours have been different.
But II Timothy 1:12 has been a security blanket, a life raft
and ever present comfort and reality during a hard season.

I am so blessed to know and love God and to know that there is no bottom to Him and that His resources continue to supply you all moment by moments no matter what is contained in that moment.
Thank you for being so generous to liberally share the evidence His grace and provision in your lives.

I also glad it is not redundant to say that we continue to pray for God to do His work as only He can.
xoxo

July 25, 2014 - 10:08 am

Gretchen - Beautiful.

July 25, 2014 - 10:14 am

bo - Helen – “there is no bottom to Him”. Yes. I’m going to put that line in my pocket today.

July 25, 2014 - 10:20 am

Uncle Robert - Thanks so much for this post Bo. you are truly a warrior. As I read it this morning,, I noticed that many of the things you said applied to me. At 82 years old, I find my self thinking the same things. So you have been a real faith builder for me. I know it’s not the same, but I want you to know that you have been a real blessing to me through out your difficult journey. And I am so proud to be your Uncle. We are praying for you.

Uncle Robert.

July 25, 2014 - 10:45 am

Dora - Bo, I hear your heart because mine is right there too. Richard and I have hard discussions about the future when I must travel on alone (if this is God’s plan). He says the hardest thing for him about ALS is having to leave me. I know we need to have the discussions because he wants to prepare me and there’s so much I don’t know, but I can hardly breathe for the tears and the pain. Sending you a hug today. Thanks for putting into words what I’m feeling.

July 25, 2014 - 11:59 am

Becky Aylor - XOXO- B

July 25, 2014 - 12:47 pm

mike smith - Bo thank-you it is a blessing even knowing you people GOD LOVES US SO MUCH MIKE

July 25, 2014 - 1:09 pm

Kathryn Vai - Hugs. Hugs. Hugs.

July 25, 2014 - 1:47 pm

Alia Joy - My father passed away 3 years ago after quite a few more of being progressively sicker. To watch my mother soldier on after 37 years of marriage with a relatively long life ahead of her, navigating it alone now, but also never alone, is sheer grace. I’d say she knows a thing or two about God’s mercy and also joy but she’s known suffering and I know it sounds trite to say she’s better for it, but I’ve never seen anything so beautiful as her walk leaning hard into God these past few years. It’s all of that wrapped up and walked through. Thank you for sharing your story.

July 25, 2014 - 1:48 pm

Debbie Nugara - Hi Bo, I’m pretty sure you don’t remember me… I was sent your web page somehow a few months ago. I have been so encouraged as I read your posts. I met you 21 years ago in Lincoln Nebraska. I remember being in church and hearing you and your daughter sing while playing “This Warrior is a Child”. To this day when life seems difficult and the valley seems deep… I remember that song and what a comfort it is… you truly are a warrior. Debbie

July 25, 2014 - 2:16 pm

Vangi - Oh, Bo. How I love you…and the beautiful, gripping truth that you wrap up in such beautiful words and phrases. Astounded and blessed by both. I weep as I read this for your family…but not without hope or life or an acknowledgement once again of the goodness of God.

July 25, 2014 - 4:50 pm

Shell - Bo- Thank you for always sharing your truth, faith, raw honesty. As I am going through my own very dark time. I thank you for allowing God to shine through you. Bless you both.

July 25, 2014 - 5:36 pm

Ryan Rhoden - We are praying for you Sterns. Bo, you blow me away. So wrecked just reading this. God is real, this is real, this is happening and He’s right in the midst of all of it. His presence is dripping off your life and your words. You carry a heavy, but powerful mantle, but you do not carry it alone. I see God draping it over your shoulders, like a heavy blanket, but it’s huge. It is more than you could ever lift or stand under, and you look up at him and say “I can’t”. I see compassion in His eyes, and He looks around your life and nods and those who are standing nearby. One by one, they understand, and come and slide under it with you, allowing the weight of it to rest on their shoulders as well. More and more silently come, no words needed, and before long what was heavy is light, what was a burden is a covering, and what was impossible is possible. (Gal. 6:2, Matthew 11:30). Thank you for taking the time and energy to let us into this walk with you. You have allowed God to change lives through you.

July 25, 2014 - 6:14 pm

Roger Levasa - THANKYOU!

July 25, 2014 - 6:54 pm

bo - Ryan Rhoden – Wow. Thank you so much. The word you’ve shared could not be more meaningful or powerful in my life today. I’m going to hold onto it with both hands.

July 25, 2014 - 8:12 pm

Deb Adams - What a beautiful verse. And I know that God is in this and He is GOOD!

July 26, 2014 - 7:20 am

Genia Melton - Hi Bo, thank you for sharing your heart. I’m praying for you.

July 26, 2014 - 9:56 am

Angie - Amazing and beautiful. My prayers are with your family.

Living on a Prayer

 

I could tell you all the ways this prayer hit my heart when I first read it. I could list all the tender places it touched and the bold challenges it issued to my sagging spirit. I could explain that I’m certain it was supernaturally nudged into my path today…in this very now of my life.  But I don’t want to add my baggage to this gift.

 

Instead, I want to place it gently in front of you, like a platter of french pastries or a necklace from Tiffany’s in a turquoise box.  Like something very fine and very perfect and sacred for your very now.

 

 

On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around

 

we are going to run short
of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

 

we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around

 

and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.

 

and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing

 

we watch
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.

 

It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

 

By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

 

Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give

 

{Walter Brueggemann}

 

 

 

July 23, 2014 - 6:52 am

jane r williams - oh. my. gosh. Perfection. Thanks, Bo.

July 23, 2014 - 7:38 am

J Hoff - Wow!

July 23, 2014 - 7:39 am

Sherri - As I was studying The Lord’s Prayer, I came across this teaching on the passage where we ask for bread- The traditional translation “give us our daily” seems odd and repetitive because the task of translating the original language here is so difficult. However, the old Syriac commentaries (earliest and closest culturally to that of Jesus) translate it like this- “Give us the bread of continuity” – or “the bread that doesn’t run out”. So…Jesus was addressing this fear of being in need that is in all of us. He wants us to be free from that fear.

I know that I, for one, need to be reminded of this truth daily. The prayer you shared is a beautiful, tender whisper from a gracious Father that His child will have enough. Amen and amen.

July 23, 2014 - 7:41 am

Chris Earwicker - This takes my breath away.

July 23, 2014 - 7:51 am

Gail - WOW… Thankful for HIM!!!

July 23, 2014 - 7:55 am

brit - “They found grace out in the desert,
these people who survived the killing.
Israel, out looking for a place to rest,
met God out looking for them!”
God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will.
Expect love, love, and more love!
And so now I’ll start over with you and build you up again,
dear virgin Israel.
You’ll resume your singing,
grabbing tambourines and joining the dance.
You’ll go back to your old work of planting vineyards
on the Samaritan hillsides,
And sit back and enjoy the fruit—
oh, how you’ll enjoy those harvests!
The time’s coming when watchmen will call out
from the hilltops of Ephraim:
‘On your feet! Let’s go to Zion,
go to meet our God!”

July 23, 2014 - 8:42 am

Michaela Evanow - That was just what I needed this morning, and probably again in the afternoon, and before bed. Brueggemann….love it.

July 23, 2014 - 8:53 am

pam - wow. just wow.

July 23, 2014 - 12:29 pm

Teresa B. - Beautiful!!! Love this prayer. This is one for my office wall.

July 23, 2014 - 3:27 pm

Gina - Pure gold.

July 26, 2014 - 12:47 pm

Lisa Alexander - Lord Jesus, please transform my thinking; renew my mind.
Bo, thank you.

How to be a Hero in a World Made for War

 

 

Today, the headlines I read are soaked in sorrow.

 

  • A plane shot out of the sky, stopping the heartbeats of 298 souls.
  • A four-year-old boy tossed from a  car to his death.
  • New death toll from the latest action in Gaza: +500.
  • A famous couple in the middle of a divorce, locked in a fierce, ugly battle over their $2 billion estate.

 

Someone, somewhere is always fighting.  And they’re fighting for things that they truly believe in.  They’re defending their truth which can seem almost noble – indeed, it can even be noble.  But the longer I live, the more reluctant I am to accept that we were meant to live like this. This scratching and clawing and making them pay and getting even is not the us we were born to be.  We can win fights by flexing our muscles and firing our missiles, but we will never win satisfaction that way.  And I wonder: If we were willing to stop pummeling each other, how much time, energy, intelligence and money could be rerouted to the fight against cancer and ALS and child poverty and clean water and homelessness and purposelessness.  What if we could divert this frantic need-to-win and funnel it instead toward a fervent need-to-build? Maybe then the  restless creative energy we use for retribution could be focused on developing actual solutions to the atrocities that have plagued humanity for far too long.

 

 

I love this quote by Thomas Merton.  It’s filling some broken places in my war-weary soul:

 

 

 

Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war.  It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience. -Thomas Merton

 

 

Fidelity to the truth. I want to live lashed to the altar of that sentence; stuck-like-glue to the truth that those who view peace as something worth fighting for are the happiest heroes of all.

 

 

With hope,

 

Bo

July 21, 2014 - 1:52 pm

Gordon Shaw - Bo,
You really are on target today!
With an extensive military and reserve background, I have come to realize that to follow Christ’s lead we are called to radically step outside the flow of history, from war to war, and live out Christ’s example.
Some say Christ’s example is not manly. Christ chose to go to the cross. It takes a real man to just finish that day of the cross.
Real men protect and nurture, with no apologies.

The Sterns know the path of the cross. May God renew your strength, hope, faith and love.
Gordon Shaw

Be Careful What You Pray For

 

 

Years ago, the book Prayer of Jabez took the world by storm. It was built on an obscure scripture from I Chronicles - a beautiful prayer spoken to the heavens by a man with a strange name and a difficult life. The book got people praying again and one line from that small bit of biblical text quickly took center stage in the Christian lexicon:  enlarge my territory.

 

I was thinking about that line this morning, as I’ve run to my Bible and my coffee for refuge after a string of long, hard ALS nights. (One thing I’ll say for living at extreme levels of exhaustion: it pretty much eliminates pretense. There’s no posing in my prayer life anymore.I don’t have the time or energy for it.)  I mostly mumbled gibberish through my murky mental fog until one line rose to the surface and became something of an inhale/exhale:

 

“Strengthen my resolve, increase my reserves, fill my storehouse.”

 

I breathed that prayer in and out, in and out, in and out, and it reminded me of a therapy Steve does called breath-stacking. Because the muscles in his chest are beginning to atrophy, he uses a weird device to force air into his lungs, causing them to expand and fill. So in spite of his muscles’ inability to do that work on their own, his lungs are still being enlarged and maintaining more of their functional capacity.

 

Here’s how I think all this comes together:  External pressure exhausts internal capacity. I could ask God to lessen the external pressure, or I can ask Him to step in and sovereignly fill my lungs with life. Maybe this is what “expand my territory” is all (or partially) about. Maybe it’s not so much that God is here to give me new and exciting adventures or increased authority or notoriety or whatever it is we think of when we think “expansion”. Instead, I think it might mean that He is here to grow my internal ability to draw the strength I need from Him, to endure hardship with hope, to run a long race without losing joy, to care for Steve well, to do tasks I’ve never imagined I could do before (medical stuff freaks me out a little – but I’m learning.) Maybe the territory that He is longing to enlarge for me is actually the ground inside of me – where the threat of atrophy is always lurking. Because it seems that any long term external expansion will hinge on our internal capacity to maintain it.

 

So today, this is my prayer over myself and the ALS wives that are so dear to me and over everyone who feels at the end of their rope and last of their resources:

 

Strengthen our resolve (to do Your will when it’s hard), increase our reserves (to endure this “expansion” with joy), and fill our storehouses (with all the resources we need to become the bigger, stronger people You have designed us to be.) Amen.

 

With hope for strength, increase and abundance,

 

Bo

 

 

P.S.  Please know this post in no way reflects criticism of the book Prayer of Jabez.  Great book, fantastic author, beautiful message.

 

 

July 16, 2014 - 7:53 am

Claudia Lee - Beautiful post Bo. Thank you.

July 16, 2014 - 8:57 am

brit - needed this. well said. praying the same.

July 16, 2014 - 9:09 am

kathy - Just breath taking. Much love to you sister, God’s abundance of blessings and favor on you. You shine like a morning star. Your spirit is radiant and flows over those you touch.

July 16, 2014 - 9:17 am

DyAnn - Beautifully written. Internal spiritual atrophy is so real in our busy adulterated lives! The analogy, perfect! Thank you.

July 16, 2014 - 2:12 pm

Sherri Niemeyer - May His grace continue to find you and His love and mercy shower down upon you.

July 16, 2014 - 7:43 pm

Cheri Smith - So true. We would never be able to handle the external expansion without the internal being where it needs to be-filled with God and His Word. Great word today. Continued prayers for you and your family.

July 17, 2014 - 6:44 am

Donna Root - God is so good to His people. Thank you, Bo, for your beautiful expressions of TRUE LOVE! I agree with your prayer, and thank Him for my beautiful new grand-kids that are having a tough time in a new home. I am in constant pain, but, nothing can stop me from PRAYING!