“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”
These words penned by Stephen Schwartz in his song “For Good” have resonated in my heart from the moment I learned Sherin’s life was in jeopardy. Now that she is gone, the resonation has become a symphony, yet also a still quiet voice that speaks peace to my soul. For it is so true of her – she was an instrument of change in my life and in so many others.
As Sherin and Bob’s son in law, I have been so privileged to be enveloped into the Bowen Family. 1983 found me as a 20 year old college junior courting their jewel of a daughter, Beth. Her tenderness, humor, initiative,and brilliance of countenance drew people to her – traits she reflected from her mother. As I got to know her and the family I was treated as I later learned they addressed all new comers: as part of the family. The welcoming feeling of ” So nice to meet you! How would you like to help us out with this project…?” (bailing hay, shearing sheep, stacking wood…) . Their family knows so well that there’s nothing like sharing in good, honest hard work to build a team and to build relationships that last. Twenty five years later, those relationships are so precious to me.
Sherin was “graciously practical” in how she treated people. She accepted people for who they are better than anyone I’ve ever known, no matter what their past failings or problems; at the same time she saw the potential in a person to become something more. Being with her, you felt accepted but also challenged to be a better person – to follow her powerful but gentle example of living a meaningful, purposeful life.
Sherin was a visionary extraordinaire – but a visionary who lived in the present. She would talk for hours about her dreams – dreams for the Lake Esadore family retreat (which is now practically an estate!) and dreams for development and empowerment for Nicaragua. Her vision for Lake Esadore to be a place of celebration, restoration and relationship was realized by literally hundreds of family, friends and guests over the past 10 years. our children count such memories as some of their best childhood memories and our friends talk of when their next visit can be arranged. All this in large part due to Sherin’s dream. Her vision for the work of Partners in Central America has likewise been phenomenal. How many hearts and lives she has touched there only eternity knows. My family was privileged to accompany her on a trip to Nicaragua several years ago; it was a lifechanging experience for us. Since then, each of my children have embraced this culture, learned Spanish, and traveled again to Central America . Beth and my 13 year old daughter Mckenzie were fortunate enough to join her on a “Learning Center” Tour as recently as last month, of which we are so grateful they had the opportunity. Her dreams were infectious – she saw as possible what most of us could barely imagine. Then, by motivating the rest of us to teamwork, the vision became reality!
One of the teams I witnessed in action on countless occasions was the “Bob and Sherin Task Force”. Take two strong individuals with equally strong, sometimes divergent opinions and watch them get things done. I never really saw their relationship as the classic “you lead I’ll follow” type, but more of a working out together what the best way to accomplish the task approach. Though emotions and critique were freely shared , it was plain that they loved one another fiercely. Their loyalty to one another was evidenced not so much in that they always agreed with one another, but that in spite of disagreements, they chose to include the other one as an intimate partner in life. Never did I witness their devotion so strongly as when the other was in peril. From early on Sherin would share with me her concerns regarding her husband’s safety while undertaking his “risk-taking” pursuits (flying, diving, sailing, skiing..). Last January when Bob underwent coronary artery stenting, we shed tears together as she cried “I hope he makes it; he’s GOT to make it!”. Thank God he did. Bob’s love for her is no less intense; there has never been a time I have experienced it as I have this past week. His matter of fact e mail message the night of her surgery in Nicaragua : “I’m leaving at 6:00 AM to be with her. ” No questions asked. Beth made the quickest decision I’ve ever seen her make that morning: buying an airline ticket, packing her bags and sending the kids off to school – all in less than 15 minutes! Through Beth’s reports over the next few days, I learned that he kept a near constant vigil at her side in the hospital, speaking quietly and encouragingly to her day and night. When I suggested that they place pneumatic stockings on her to improve circulation, they couldn’t be found in Nicaragua. Never one to be deterred, Bob set out to massage her legs himself, his powerful well calloused hands working the blood flow back into dormant vessels – for THREE days straight! Later he confided he would gladly do it for three weeks if it would have helped, if he could have her back. When the plan to air lift Sherin back to Wisconsin developed, he -along with Beth, Amy, Bobby and Dr. Brad Martin – was relentless in accomplishing this. Through what I consider near heroic and miraculous efforts (getting approval to land a private plane in Central America usually takes 2 – 3 days alone I was told), The process took less than 24 hours! Sherin arrived by air ambulance, along with Bob and Beth crammed in a modified Lear Jet around midnight last Thursday at Mitchell Field in Milwaukee. I was privileged along with my two daughters to go down the next morning to join her and the family at St. Lukes Hospital. I embraced my father in law, who truly is like a second father to me, sensing his pain and sharing his suffering. My own tears started as we prayed together as a family and later again when my own daughters wept by her bedside. Mckenzie wrote a poem for her and read it to her; we sang quietly to her, and to each other. In all sincerety, Bob tearfully asked the doctor if they could use his brain as a transplant to save her life. The doctor shook his head slowly and sadly. This was a desperate love, a fiercely intense love, a sacrificial love and I want to add, an extravagant love. It was as close a model of Christ’s love as I believe I have seen.
As I sort through my feelings and thoughts from this past week, I see hope, despair, weariness, anger, humility, sadness and even joy. I am grateful for the chance to be part of such a family as the Bowens, and to have known such a soul as Sherin. I cling to my faith in God who draws us close to Himself even- and maybe especially- in times of pain and grief. I pray that much good will continue to come from Sherin’s hopes, dreams, love, work and life.