Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

The Grace of the Scar January 31, 2012

Filed under: Genesis — Stephanie Rische @ 8:10 am
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I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

Two years ago I sat on a lumpy ceramic chair, utterly helpless as I watched my active mom lying in pain on a hospital bed.

She’d just had her bum hip replaced, and everyone assumed it would be a textbook case. After all, Mom was in shape and otherwise healthy. But from day one post-op, we seemed to encounter one fiasco after the next. First there was the morphine, which sent Mom’s body into convulsive, hallucinatory panics every thirty minutes. Then, almost immediately after surgery, Mom sensed that something was wrong with her leg—not her hip, but her leg. She asked the doctors and nurses about it, but they all assured her this was normal pain.

A couple of days later, though, once the morphine had finally worn off, she had my dad and me take a look at the leg that was bothering her. To our horror, we saw what amounted to a partial tourniquet on her thigh. The compression socks—intended to prevent blood clots—had been put on wrong. Instead of being smooth all the way up her leg, they had gotten bunched tightly around her skin. And now, wrapping all the way around her thigh, was a gaping wound…like the worst rope burn you’ve ever seen.

Suddenly there was a flurry of activity around Mom’s hospital bed, and with it multiple rounds of blame transfer. In addition to the problem of the wound itself, the doctors were concerned about the possibility of infection. If this cut became infected, it would go directly to that susceptible new incision…and she’d be back to square one, needing to have the hip replaced all over again.

I stayed at home with Mom the week after her surgery to help her with basic tasks like putting on her shoes, going up the stairs, and getting into bed. Oh, and putting antibiotic ointment on that laceration. One day as I was doing wound duty, Mom asked me how it looked. I went through the checklist given to me by the medical team: the skin was turning a healthy pink, it was no longer oozing, and it didn’t smell necrotic. Check, check, check.

Mom let out the oxygen she’d been holding in. Things were starting to look up, I thought. Then she said, “No one’s talking about this, but there’s going to be a huge scar, isn’t there.” I inspected the ugly red mark winding its way around her left thigh. I swallowed. My mom, the synchronized swimmer with the fantastic legs, even as a grandma. “Yes,” I whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

On my last day with Mom before I headed home, she looked up from the hospital papers she was paging through. I was startled to see her eyes brimming over with tears. “Every time I see this scar from now on…” Her throat constricted. What will she say once she finds her voice again? I wondered. Would the scar remind her of the negligence of the nurse who put on the compression socks incorrectly? Or the doctor who failed to listen when she voiced her concerns? Or would it trigger the awful days in the hospital under the influence of the body- and mind-ravaging drugs?

I was floored when these words came out of her mouth instead: “Every time I see this scar, it will remind me of the way God took care of me.”

Not so different from Jacob, I guess, who had some hip surgery of his own. After wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32), Jacob’s hip was wrenched, and he walked with a permanent limp from that day forward. No doubt his tweaked hip was a tangible reminder of his encounter with a God who doesn’t usually show up so palpably.

So, Mom, I want what you have. Not a new hip, per se. (I’m hoping this condition isn’t genetic, as the surgeon implied.) But I do want your perspective on scars. That it’s not so much about what happened in the first place or who inflicted the wound. It’s really about who healed it.

Until the day there is no more crying or pain, may my scars and remind me of the one who was there with me when I got hurt in the first place, the one who is still with me now.

He’s also the God who knows what it feels like. After all, on the palms of his hands, he has two jagged scars of his own.


The Mountain of Obedience January 27, 2012

Filed under: Genesis — Stephanie Rische @ 8:13 am
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I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

The story of God calling Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited son, Isaac, is one of the toughest accounts in the whole Bible for me to grapple with. Why would a good God ask his faithful follower to do something that seems so contrary to his nature…so downright cruel? Yes, there’s a graceful finish to the story, but Abraham didn’t know that when he and his beloved son started their hike up the mountain.

Recently, though, I read something in Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods that shed new light onto this story. According to Keller, in the cultural and religious backdrop of Abraham’s day, it was a given that every firstborn son belonged to God. Although these sons were to be bought back through sacrifice (Exodus 22:29; 34:20), they were still viewed as belonging to God—something of a down payment for the family’s sins. So in reality, Keller contends, God wasn’t asking Abraham to commit murder; he was asking him to lay down what was rightfully his.

Still, Abraham was left in a quandary. He believed God was holy, so he must hand over his son. Yet he also believed God was gracious and would keep his promises. How could both be true?

As I think about Abraham and Isaac making their way up the mountain on their sacrificial journey, I marvel at Abraham’s obedience. How was he able to put one foot in front of the other knowing what awaited him at the top? Keller captures Abraham’s faithfulness this way: “If he had not believed that he was in debt to a holy God, he would have been too angry to go. But if he had not also believed that God was a God of grace, he would have been too crushed and hopeless to go” (p. 11).

Keller goes on to point out that the biblical account offers a beautiful foreshadowing of grace: “He told his servants that ‘we will come back to you’ (Genesis 22:5). It is unlikely he had any specific idea of what God would do.” But he clung to the hope that God would somehow stay true to his character.

And he did just that. He provided a substitute—a ram in place of Abraham’s son.

This is, in the end, a beautiful account of eleventh-hour grace. Even so, it pales next to the ultimate story of sacrifice and grace: God’s own Son, laid on the altar by his Father. The substitute for our sin. Once and for all.


The Art of Pruning January 25, 2012

Filed under: Accountability — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
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My husband and I joke that he only moved in three things when we got married: his bike collection, his guitar collection, and his plant collection. I benefit from all three, but I’m specifically loving the plants.

Daniel is a master green thumb, especially when it comes to violets (which I have a pretty storied history of killing myself). The trick, he says, is in the pruning. At first it struck me as unnecessarily brutal to take a pair of scissors to those innocent little leaves that don’t seem to be hurting a soul. But if his flowering pots are any indication, this method seems to be working.

Yesterday I had one of those pruning conversations myself. Someone I love gently held up the mirror to me on one of those habitual sins I wasn’t even aware I’d been guilty of. And for me, those deeply entrenched lifestyle sins are way more painful to prune away than the one-time doozies. It feels more like digging up a root than trimming an errant leaf.

As much as it hurts to feel the shears, though, it’s what I want. It’s only when I let someone close enough to show me who I really am that they can help trim away the places that are quite literally sucking the life out of me.

Grace, I am learning, sometimes comes in the form of pruning shears.

He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.
—John 15:2


God’s Gracious GPS January 20, 2012

Filed under: Genesis — Stephanie Rische @ 4:57 pm
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I’m pretty decent at directions…so long as Tom-Tom is in the passenger seat next to me. Yes, Tom-Tom, the other man in my life. As long as his robotic voice pipes up, telling me, “In 200 yards, turn left,” I can navigate myself to pretty much anywhere on the map. But if for some reason he runs out of juice, I am in a world of hurt.

The problem isn’t just that I get turned around; it’s that my entire internal compass is catawampus. I’ll approach to a fork in the road and feel the overwhelming urge to turn right…when that’s precisely the opposite way I need to go.

Alas, my spiritual GPS can be just as catawampus. Everything in my gut might be telling me to go one way when the Spirit is clearly saying the opposite.

Remember that story about Lot in Genesis? I’ve always been so distracted by the image of apocalyptic fire and Mrs. Lot being turned into a salt shaker that I never noticed what happens later in the chapter—almost as a postscript.

When the angel directs Lot and his family out of the city, he tells them to escape to the mountains. But Lot, in all his navigational bluster, is sure that’s the wrong way. “I cannot go to the mountains,” he says. “Disaster would catch up to me there, and I would soon die” (Genesis 19:19).

It’s only ten verses later that we see Lot make a U-turn and head—where else?—to the mountains: “Lot left Zoar because he was afraid of the people there, and he went to live in a cave in the mountains with his two daughters” (Genesis 19:30).

Why, I wonder, do I presume to know which way is up, all the while doubting the one with the power to send the fire and sulfur in the first place? And perhaps more to the point, why don’t I listen the first time around? Yes, God is gracious about second chances, but it would be so much simpler not to have to pack up twice.

Maybe this isn’t just about my directional impairments, after all; maybe it’s also about who I believe God to be. When he directs me away from a certain path, I wrongly assume it’s because he’s some kind of killjoy. The reality, however, is that he may be blocking that path to protect me.

So this year I want to do better at listening to God’s gracious directions the first time around. It would save me a lot of effort…and I sure won’t miss that patient reprimand: “Recalculating route…”


Christmas Is Coming (well, sort of…) January 17, 2012

Filed under: Winter — Stephanie Rische @ 12:08 pm
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Okay, I know Christmas is over…I finally took down the tree and (for the most part) curbed my habit of belting out holiday tunes. I was doing pretty well until it snowed, and let’s just say I relapsed.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Over the Rhine’s “Darlin’ (Christmas Is Coming),” and every time I see the white stuff out the window, I can’t help but sing it. The song starts out less chipper than you might expect for Christmas lyrics:

So it’s been a long year
Every new day brings one more tear
Till there’s nothing left to cry

But there’s this lovely thread of redemption that runs through the song, all the more poignant for its haunting opening:

Darlin’, the snow is falling
Falling like forgiveness from the sky

If there was ever a nature metaphor for grace, it has to be snow. One moment the world is drab and brown and lifeless, and in an instant it’s transformed—clean, pure, new. And unexpectedly beautiful. Everything is covered—from hulking buildings to the tiniest twigs.

And so it is with grace. When it falls, it covers everything—from our biggest, most glaring sins to the less obtrusive ones we try to hide.

So get ready, darlin’. Grace is falling…it’s falling like snowflakes from the sky.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
—Psalm 51:7


The Grace of the Tarzan Skirt January 14, 2012

Filed under: Genesis — Stephanie Rische @ 11:18 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

Call it shallow, call it being female, but I can’t help but notice as I read Genesis that God was the designer of the very first outfit.

Thanks to those illustrated Bible storybooks I read as a kid, I always picture Eve with a furry Tarzan look—one shoulder covered, the other bare, a tasteful belt around her waist. I just never really thought about where the outfit came from.

But this time as I read the account of Paradise Lost, something new hit my fashion sensibilities. I found it disturbing in that “Lady Gaga is wearing a meat dress” sort of way. The first line of clothing in the brand-new world, it turns out, was preceded by its first bloodshed.

Back when things were perfect, Adam and Eve were on vegetarian diet (Genesis 1:29), which meant no cows or chickens had kicked the bucket for sake of supper. And presumably, since things were perfect, no one—human or animal—had died for any other reason. But once Adam and Eve caved to temptation, God’s promise that death would ensue (Genesis 3:3) went into effect immediately.

When I think about that heart-wrenching scene when God calls the first couple on their sin, I typically think about the curse part of it: enmity with the snake, pain in childbirth, toil in labor, to every generation hence, thankyouverymuch, Eve.

But just after the curse is pronounced, there’s this little grace note I’ve overlooked in the past: “And the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife” (Genesis 3:21). God gave them clothes, a covering for their nakedness and shame. But before he could do that, there had to be a sacrifice. Blood had to be shed.

And in this AD era, so it is for us. God has provided a permanent covering for our sin. But a sacrifice was necessary; bloodshed was required. And we, the guilty ones, find ourselves clothed.

When God stitches the garment, he threads his needle with grace.