My Marriage and a Terminal Illness

stressed married couple

I love September. This particular September day rolled in with the fully alive colors of the season as our mountains welcomed their first sweaters of snow and the orange leaves snapped to attention on the trees. The day could have been perfectly lovely. Except that it turned out to be the day war was declared.

Like just most conflicts, this one began long before we realized it. My husband, Steve, a man who personified the word strapping, had been experiencing some neck and shoulder weakness that was diagnosed as arthritis and treated with a steroid injection. Weeks later, however, his condition was so much worse that he struggled to hold his head up when he mowed the lawn or rode a bike. Ironically, I was not concerned when I went with him to see a neurologist on that big September day. I have feared pretty much everything else in my life, but our family has been blessed with generations of stout health, and Steve had never had any serious physical issues.

At the clinic, the doctor conducted test after test on Steve's strength, and slowly, steadily, like water seeps into sand, a sense of ominous dread began to roll into that cold, sterile room. Steve had been working hard throughout the year to lose weight, and many people had remarked about how great he looked. However, as the neurologist soberly pointed out the lack of symmetry in my husband's twitching shoulder muscles, I realized that what we had assumed was healthy weight loss was actually muscle atrophy.

I can't pinpoint the moment it happened, but as some point during the doctor's silent scrutiny, Goliath walked into the room. Though invisible, his presence was palpable; his size and strength nearly took my breath away. I tried desperately to hold back the tears that were threatening to spill over. Even though the doctor had yet to mention any possible names for whatever was causing Steve to waste away, I knew then and there that we were in for the fight of our lives. I just knew.

As the doctor began explaining the litany of tests that would follow, I could hear his words, but with the ears of the Spirit I also could hear the sounds of a battle forming. The lines had been drawn. The war was on, and the fight felt suffocating.

That big day launched a lot of other big days. And finally, eight months after the first doctor visit, the day the dreaded diagnosis came: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Lou Gehrig's disease.

Nearly every decision we have faced [since that day] has packed an emotional wallop the likes of which we have never had to absorb before. I've gotten plenty of sympathy and hugs, so please know that I am not saying this to gain more, but rather to help you feel the ground on which our family fights: This has been, without any close second, the most intense and excruciating battle we have ever faced.

However, and this is a big however, God himself has come to our crisis. He has shown up in miraculous and magnificent ways, and this has caused an indelible change in one specific area of my thinking. I used to believe that God could bring good things from hard times, almost like a cosmic consolation prize for having endured something unfortunate or unfair. Now that I've walked with Him this far through the fight, I am certain of this one truth: Some beautiful things can only be found in the hardest times. Can you turn that idea around in your mind for a bit and let its size and scope seep in? God is for us. He is for our growth, our joy, our success and our maturity, and He will use every struggle we face as the delivery agent for His most remarkable gifts. Our beautiful God has hidden beauty in the soil of our battlefield. He has placed treasure there that we simply would not be able to find in other, more peaceful, places.

Before we faced this fight, I knew this truth in theory, but I hadn't experienced a fire hot enough to prove and refine it. Now I can say with great confidence, I own it. On good days and on bad, in war and in peace, in sickness and in health, I know in the deepest part of my heart that He is the God who brings beauty from battle.

In the dark of night when it's just me and my tears and fears and questions of What if? and Why me? — He shows up. Through His voice, His Word and His indescribable but absolutely undeniable presence, He has strengthened me and proven himself sure and steadfast. Every. Single. Time. I can say with confidence: This battle is not destroying us. In fact, in the midst of this trauma and turmoil, God's power to use every bad thing for our good is making us more beautiful than we have ever been.

Bo Stern is a sought-after speaker and the author of several books, including Beautiful Battlefields.

This excerpt is taken from Beautiful Battlefields © 2013 by Bo Stern. Used with permission of Navpress. From Focus on the Family website at

Next in this Series: God Will Fight For You

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