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Finger Painting for Grownups


I’ve been studying a message on being wholehearted and it has me thinking about my own core values and how wholeheartedly I live them. Here’s my problem, though:

 

  • I long to see the world; and I long for the comforts of home.
  • I long for greater levels of organization and planning in my life; and I long for spontaneity and creative chaos.
  • I long to write books; and I long for life with no deadlines.
  • I long for a spotless house; and I long to binge watch The Good Wife.
  • I long for credibility and I long for anonymity.
  • I long to slim down and I long to carb up.
  • I long to work hard and spend my last breath telling the story of those affected by ALS and I long to never say those three dumb letters again.

 

I am a murky stew of dueling desires. And the older I get, the more I suspect that in the end, the way we feed or deny the longings in our lives will make all the difference in the mark we leave on our world and the happiness we enjoying while leaving it.

 

But it’s hard. It’s hard to know what deserves my focus at any given time. I have a grid I like to run things through and it’s this: Am I doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason? It tends to weed out a lot of silliness for me, but it’s only a grid – a tool for helping decide how to invest the minutes in my day. It’s still up to me to choose and choosing requires muscle and discipline and a level of grownupness I don’t think I’ve yet attained. Maybe I never will.  Because this idea about being wholehearted is big and it defies common logic or dispassionate maturity. I’m discovering that sometimes, believe it or not, a little time in the world of The Good Wife is the very thing that fuels me to go back to my life as an ALS wife. Traveling the world is sweet because it reminds me home is sweeter. A well-placed carb helps fuel a River Trail run and the River Trail run inspires creative thinking that leads to more-organized systems.

 

The thing is, this minute-by-minute decision-making about right things and right reasons? It’s not a science. And it’s not even theology. It’s a messy, mixed-up art. It’s finger-painting for grownups. It’s starts with the question, “At the end of my life, how do I want my picture to look?” Then we go about the business of sticking chubby fingers into puddles of color, letting a design take shape that may or may not, but probably, definitely won’t look exactly like our beginning vision. Sometimes it turns out differently because our fingers can only do what fingers can do, sometimes life dumps a color onto the page we weren’t expecting and we have to choose whether we crumple the picture or ask the Great Artist of Romans 8:28 to incorporate that spill into the grand design. It’s hard. It’s work. It’s fun. It’s life.

 

The conclusion of the matter is this: if there’s one area in which I want to be truly, deeply wholehearted, it’s in trusting God with the minutes and months and miracles that fill the page and staying closely connected to His voice as He lets me pretend to be an artist too.  He makes everything beautiful.

 

 

April 21, 2014 - 10:01 am

Dede Miller - Bo,

Thank you, thank you for these words this morning. I’m right in there with the whole giant messer-upper feeling these days. Yesterday I ranted. I vented. I cried. To my husband…to my Mom. And then to the Lord. Wow did I ever get that order of venting wrong. Tired of treatments…not knowing if it is going to work…feeling stuck in a sink hole and so far away from Romans 8:28. You are so right that it is a minute by minute choosing of the right things…choosing of having the right heart on matters…choosing to live and breathe Romans 8:28. And remembering the unfathomable love of the “Great Artist” as He lovingly sweeps His brush over the ranting and venting days to include those in the picture. He truly does make ALL things beautiful, doesn’t He?

April 22, 2014 - 7:04 am

Cathy Denney - Oh Bo!! This so very deeply speaks to me! It seems I’m at constant odds with many of the things you mentioned. Even watching “the Good Wife” :) And I also, find myself content to settle most wholeheartedly into the arms of the Lord. There I see more clearly the beauty of the dance between the rest and the run, being home and away, the carbs and the fast and the perfect plan and the chaos! He does make all of it work together, doesn’t He? I love Him for that!! God bless you and your family today! Thank you for sharing your heart with us!

April 23, 2014 - 7:45 am

Annette - I like you Bo. :)

Beautiful, Terrible Friday

 

 

 

imageI don’t know what to do today.  I mean, it feels like any other day.  The sun is shining, facebook is alive with noise and TGIF’s and You Will Not Believe What This Kitten Did Next.   It’s like every other Friday.

 

Except it’s not.

 

It’s Good Friday and it seems like that should require something of me.  The holy events of this beautiful, terrible day should somehow move out of the square on the calendar and into the tender places in my heart; places that were once dead and are now alive.  I know we should live in gratitude for the work of the cross every day, but Good Friday isn’t every day.  This is the day; the day it happened.  The day flesh-torn-from-bone filled the aching void in me.  The day the blood of Jesus watered seeds of hope, buried in the dry wasteland of an endless eternity.   The day my spiritual diagnosis moved from terminal to triumphant, from hospice to healed.  This is big.  So I’m torn between sinking into the depths of quiet contemplation or shouting from the rooftops of social media.

 

I really don’t know what to do.  But I do know this:  I’m not going to let it pass without stopping to look, really look, at a sacrifice so sacred and scandalous it can only be called Grace. I want to let His words and wounds be my singular sound byte, drowning out the clamoring chatter and endless debates over louder, less-worthy issues in the Church.  The fights and fringes that seem so important on any other Friday, must reverently and fearfully step into the shadows to let this Friday – and all that was accomplished – occupy every inch of the stage.  Perhaps our silent attention and unyielding affection for the work of the cross will cause a change so great that we’ll never want to move back to the insignificant edges.  Perhaps as we stand and stare at Love Poured Out, we’ll be willing to do the same with our words and opinions and work and dreams.   As we realize, fresh and deep, that we were the joy set before Him, maybe we’ll see one another in the very same way.

 

Wouldn’t that just be a resurrection miracle?

 

Thank God it’s Friday,

 

Bo

 

 

 

 

April 18, 2014 - 12:40 pm

sandra - Bo,
I wanted to thank you for your blog and your books. For the last 2 1/2 years I have gone through the toughest battle in my life. My husband was diagnosed with melanoma and 6 months ago, he won that battle and is now at home with Jesus. Your book, Beautiful Battlefields was a tremendous encouragement to me as I journeyed through this time in my life. I have given that book to several other people that are going through their own battles.

I have also shared some of your blog posts with my fb friends or on my blog. I loved your post today and found that we both blogged with some of the same thoughts in mind. I have always though of us as “kindred spirits”, and today just made me think that even more! If you are interested, my blog is http://www.trustinghisplan.wordpress.com.

Even though we’ve never met, please know that I think about and pray for your family often! Praying you all have a wonderful, joy-filled Easter weekend!

April 19, 2014 - 7:47 am

Teri K. - Happy Easter, Bo, to you and your family!

The High Cost of Cheap Words

 

 

I recently ran into this post, written by my friend, Kristen Lunceford, on the occasion of her darling daughter’s 3rd birthday.  It is beautiful and elegant and powerful.  It’s also from three years ago, which is longer than I’ve been following Kristen, so had she not retrieved it from the archives and re-posted, I would have missed it forever.

 

When people ask me for advice on writing, first I look around frantically for someone I perceive to be a Real Writer, and then I realize they’re talking to me and so I give them this answer:  Start by blogging.  A blog is your own little writing universe where you can practice building your skills and honing your craft and you can try stuff out on your “crowd” which will probably be your mom and your best friend to begin with, but it will grow from there.  Especially if you’re good.  Especially if you write consistently, aka: several times each week.

 

And this is exactly what so many would-be writers are doing – becoming actual writers with the push of the publish button on WordPress and I think it’s fantastic.  We’ve never had access to so many brilliantly-crafted words.  An author can write a novel over the weekend and I can buy it for a buck (if I can find it) in the Amazon marketplace by Tuesday. Johann Gutenberg himself couldn’t have seen this coming, when his printing press would seem like  a slow stream of molasses in the publishing world.   And if you’ve hung around America for any length of time, you know that Fast = Good.

 

Except when it doesn’t.

 

Sometimes, fast just equals fast.  And sometimes fast = filler.  And sometimes fast = dumb.  The pressure on writers today to build an online presence is acute and there is no building that essential, elusive “platform” without a lot, lot, lot of words.  I see it on my blog all the time – the stats tell the story.  When I write every day, readership skyrockets.  When I don’t, people just naturally move on to newer, fresher stuff as it rolls through their Facebook and Twitter feeds like sushi on a conveyor belt.

 

I get exactly why this happens, and I still believe blogging is a great way to build writing skill, but I wonder what we’re doing with all these words.  I, frankly, don’t even have to wonder about the worthiness of all MY words.  I can clearly point to blog posts written out of desperation to stay relevant.  I see words rushed out to the world that had not yet spent any amount of time in the furnace of refininig.  They weren’t necessarily wrong words, but neither are they weighty.  Conversely, I know the posts that simmered in my spirit for bit before being wrestled onto the page, where they remain cemented by unshakable conviction and timeless truth.  I’m proud of these, but I know their beauty languishes in the dusty archives of yesterday’s news, surrounded as they are by the packing peanuts of posts created mostly just to hold my place on a tiny, tipsy platform.  Admittedly, I feel far less pressure now that I have publishers who believe in my work and are willing to turn these words into ink-on-a-page, but I’m still a part of the system that often rewards Right Now over Timeless Beauty.

 

Do you want to be an author?  Write well.  Write weighty.  Go back and read your early work and, even if it isn’t crafted well, remind yourself of the concentrated passion that caused you to pick up a pen in the first place.  And pray. Pray and wait for words that are filled with supernatural significance, refined by suffering and celebration, ready to be offered as a feast to a hungry world.

 

That’s all my words today.  I do not take it lightly that of all the blogs in all the world, you happened to stop by mine.  Thank you. I hope I never waste your time.

 

 

In gratitude for the One, True Word-Made-Flesh,

 

Bo

 

 

 

 

 

April 10, 2014 - 1:46 pm

Jody Lee Collins - Bo, we have mutual friends who encouraged me to ‘visit’ your site–Scott and Gwen McIntosh (and beautiful daughter Adriel). I’ve known Scott and Gwen for over 40 years (we have the same Jesus Movement background–maybe they’ve filled you in? :-)

Anyway, I started blogging two years ago in January because I’ve been writing for like, forever, published a tiny bit. I’m not interested in getting published, just in being ‘heard’ and having people connect with me.
I’ll grant you the pressure to be fast and furious and famous is a daily distraction….and your post really hit home.
I wrote about my own post about succumbing to the “I wanna be well known” curse (http://threewaylight.blogspot.com/2014/04/one-size-does-not-fit-all.html) if you’d like to take a read.
Gwen mentioned The Well conference next month…oh, I’d so like to make it, but will have to pray about it.

I’ll be back to read more!

April 10, 2014 - 1:50 pm

Kathryn Vai - Gosh, I love your honesty! You rock!

April 10, 2014 - 3:33 pm

Susie - Your words are never cheap for they are chiseled out of priceless material.. Just ask those who have been touched by your words. We usually don’t know how we impact others, but I do know God has us here now in this place for a reason. Thank you,Bo for your beautiful words.

April 10, 2014 - 11:26 pm

Tammy Anderson - You know what book I would like to see from author Bo Stern? A collection of her blog posts! Oh, just imagine the joy of having all those delicious words in one concise collection!

April 16, 2014 - 10:32 am

Gina - Such good words. As a wanna be writer I often struggle with this, the whole concept of building a platform and writing real. I know I need to be posting and posting often, and yet, I don’t want to write just to fill the time. I want my words to matter and have an impact. I know for that to happen I need to constantly bathe my words in prayer, asking God to use them as he sees fit. I might be a writer, but he is the master story teller.

On a related note, what are your thoughts about critique groups when you’re ready to move beyond the blog to published works?

Seven: Change Your Life in One Easy List

 

 

Well, shoot.  The great thing about blogging my way through Seven is that it’s kept me motivated and accountable.  The bad thing is that I’ve been stuck – absolutely, unquestionably stuck – in two little chapters in Isaiah.  Which has been life-changing for me as a human, but as a writer,  has me circling the same ground every day which I fear might seem redundant.  And yet – this is the ground.  The Ground. This is the ground where ethereal principle messes with Bo’s to-do list.  For me, there is nothing worth more than these fourteen light bulb verses in Isaiah 58.  So, here’s today:

 

If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight…you’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again. Isaiah 58

 

 

 

This passage makes me want to cry tears of happy gratitude because it’s chock-full of the thing I love most: answers.  When our lives feel faded and dim, these words tell us exactly how to flip the switch. Exactly. It’s not a bit fuzzy or deep. We don’t need a masters in Hebrew to get it. It’s brilliantly clear.

 

 

 

Feeling in the dark? On the sidelines? Out of touch with the purposes and heart of God? Here you go:

 

 

  • Treat people like people instead of like profit.
  • Stop pointing fingers at other people’s problems.
  • Be very generous with the hungry and hurting.
  • Care deeply about those who are discouraged.
  • Be available to your own family

 

 

Then, says Isaiah (translated masterfully by Eugene Peterson), the lights will turn on. Then you’ll start to see what you’ve never seen before and feel what you’ve never felt before – and these things will be good, like He is good.

 

 

I know, it seems a lot is missing from this list, doesn’t it? No tithing. No quiet time. No attendance charts. But I suspect when we start by doing the right things in the right way, the rest of the doing becomes clear as well. Because this list? Is discipleship. It describes a person who is growing the very heart of the very God inside his chest. It paints the picture of a person ignited by a supernatural spark for the purpose of warming a stone cold world.

 

 

I firmly believe that the more we begin to think and act and love like God the more we…think, love and act like God. Profound, no? The more we give, the more we discover we have to give. The more we love, the more we find worth loving. The more we do life His way, the more we understand His way.

 

 

 

Maybe it’s the hunger talking, but I’m feeling simple enough to believe in this list today. And the only problem I see with it – the only teeny, tiny problem – is that every single bullet point is easier to memorize than it is to, you know, do. I’d rather read the whole book of  James than do James 1:27. I’d rather plunk 10% in the offering plate than open up a room in my home to someone who has nowhere to go. I’d rather speak at conference than put my computer away at the dinner table. So, this is me on Day Seven of Seven saying: mercy, I have a long way to go! A long, long way.

 

 

But I’m so thankful for these days of going without, because they have helped me see the places in my soul that were already starving and I didn’t even know it. And I am determined to weave fasting into my life in a more systemic way. I hate it and I need it. Not for divine arm-twisting, but for personal soul-shifting.

 

 

 

And that, my friends, is a Seven wrap.

 

 

Comments are open – what have you learned, discovered, thought, hit, yelled at during Seven and what are you going to eat when this is all over?

 

 

Flipping on the lights,

 

 

Bo

 

 

 

 

 

April 2, 2014 - 9:01 am

Cindi Dunn - Hi Bo! I have been drawn to Isaiah 58 this week also! Thanks so much for putting into “real life” words, what I have been sensing the LORD saying to me through this tough week! It has been hard, and good, and drawing me closer to being willing to BE who He wants, rather than just “do the stuff”…Love you so! cindi

April 2, 2014 - 9:40 am

Jen Gott - I got myself kind of stuck in Psalm 86 and Isaiah 58, and I was completely happy to stay there. In the middle of praying for a lot of big things, I kept being reminded of all the ways God has provided for me, transformed me, disciplined me, showed me kindness–and that the things He asks me to do are relatively simple, in concept anyway, and that the doing of those things affects the big asks. For me, this has felt a whole lot like a fast of gratitude and remembrance than anything, and I trust that the outpouring comes, even if my small words stay stuck on the thank-Yous.

April 2, 2014 - 5:02 pm

jacquelyn Strayer - EAT!!!!

April 2, 2014 - 5:58 pm

Susie - I have found that by going without, I actually have enough. And then He showed me I am enough.
Enough; no more, no less. Wow!

I have learned what it is like to live in the present moment.

The 6th day seemed harder than the others. Not sure why,but what I know is that the enemy did everything he could to entice me to break the fast -”after all who is going to know?” I prayed James 4:7 and told myself, “I will know.”And now I approach the closure of seven.

I give the Glory to our LORD. With Him, I am enough.

April 4, 2014 - 1:38 am

Tori's Mom - I love this, Bo! Reminds me that when I lost 50# years ago (dieting, not fasting) I remember feeling, “There’s more room for God now!” But really I think it was that when I stopped stuffing myself with pleasurable food and drink any time I desired it, I could listen and hear His voice so clearly, changing me, remodeling my soul to reflect His glory. Thank you for helping me remember. Love v. 11 as well…one of my life verses!

April 13, 2014 - 3:42 am

Joe - I am currently starting over again and rebuilding my life. I don’t know how to do it yet, I am scared to be honest with you and not having any friends still doesn’t make it any easier. (If you want to read about how it is going, I am writing a blog about it at http://rebuildingat30.blogspot.com )

Seven: Contradictions

 

 

…by His hand the Lords pleasure will be accomplished. He will see it out of His anguish and be satisfied… Isaiah 53:10-11

 

I’m struck by two dueling words in that sentence: anguish and satisfied.

 

They aren’t usually bumped up that close together.  Not in my life anyway. When does anguish satisfy? Only when it produces something better than the suffering. I’ve never known more satisfaction than I did when hours of painful labor turned into a beautiful new baby. While this fast has been hard and humbling, it is producing a deeper satisfaction than I’ve known in awhile.  I think it’s because I know it’s rooted in His will and saturated in His presence. I know He is producing something, even if I don’t know all the details of how that something will look in the end.  He is at work and His work will always satisfy.

 

Be encouraged today, friend – the end is in sight and His love never fails to fill the deep, thirsty places in our hearts.

 

Believing is seeing,

 

 

Bo

 

 

 

April 1, 2014 - 4:43 pm

Adriel Booker - And this would be one of my favorite things I’ve ever read from you. (Not only because the “end is in sight” – just for the record.)

Thanks Bo. Love God’s heart through the filter of yours.

April 1, 2014 - 6:28 pm

Susie - Thanks, Bo. I needed that. I doubt I have had a more challenging day during this fast. I am not really surprised, though. The enemy is quite unhappy with my obedience to our Lord. But, Hallelujah, our God Reigns… Love you and bless you.