Bo Stern is a wife, mother, writer, speaker & pastor at Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. She is passionate about helping raise money to find a cure for ALS, a disease her husband has been fighting since 2011. Her first book, Beautiful Battlefields, reveals how God uses suffering and the fierce fights in our lives for an astonishing purpose.
KW: Tell us about some of your experiences that led you to write Beautiful Battlefields.
BS: Initially, the concept for Beautiful Battlefields formed as I began a study on all the battles in the Bible (which, by the way, is a surprisingly brutal, bloody book). I saw in myself a tendency to run from battles, and I wanted to discover the ways God had used them to train and strengthen His people throughout history. In the middle of that little project, my husband, Steve, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and suddenly the ancient battles I was reading about in the Bible became very, very personal. The book was born as a composite of what I learned as I studied and how we’ve tried to apply that truth to our life as we fight our Goliath.
KW: What is the primary message you want to convey with the book?
BS: I used to believe that God could use the hard things we face in life to accomplish good things in us. Now, I believe (strongly! passionately!) that there are some good things we can ONLY discover through the hardest times of life. Bottom line: we only need Him as much as we need Him. Paul said that we enter the Kingdom of God through much affliction. I’ve found it to be true: battle moves me deeper into the heart of His goodness, deeper into His Word, deeper into His comfort. More than anything, I want people to believe that the battles they face really can make them more beautiful than they have ever been.
KW: How have you learned that God works through suffering?
BS: Such a big question! I think suffering has softened me so much. It has made me more merciful and more aware of the brokenness in the world around me. Our particular situation has given us credibility with a whole community we didn’t know anything about before. We are able to speak into the suffering of the ALS community because we share it in a way we couldn’t (and wouldn’t) otherwise. It really is the greatest gift—but I never would have asked for it.
KW: Through your experiences with ALS and your ministry career, what have you learned about how well the church is or isn’t equipped to deal with disease and disability?
BS: This question is deep water. In our personal experience, our church has been an incredible force and essential to our survival—but our story is unique. Overall, I think the Church has some catching up to do with the world in developing the kind of compassion that helps bear the burden of the sick. We consistently hear from our ALS friends that church people are busy doing church things and saying, “We’re praying for you,” is a pretty easy exit from exhausting relationships. Add to that the fact that many Christians hold the view—either secretly or openly—that sickness is the result of sin or unbelief. All of this can build invisible walls and make the suffering one feel it is his or her fault—and that’s a difficult weight to bear when life is already heavy.
KW: What advice do you have for those dealing with life on the battlefield?
BS: If the battlefield you’re on is the result of your own sin or choices, now is the time to retrace your steps. Invite Jesus back into the story. He can still make beauty from the ashes—he’s fantastic that way. For every other sort of battle, my best advice is: ask God to give you a glimpse of the bigger picture. What is happening inside of you that is making you stronger, more compassionate, more purpose-filled and more credible than you could have been otherwise? Ask Him to reveal the ways that He could work these things together for His great glory and your great joy. On my toughest days, when the battle gets really hot, even the smallest look at the eternal purpose going on all around me is usually enough to set me back on my feet again.