Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Big Hope June 29, 2012

Filed under: 2 Kings — Stephanie Rische @ 1:09 pm
Tags: , ,

  A few weeks ago my husband, Daniel, and I went to our friends’ house to introduce ourselves to the latest addition to their family—an adorable eight-pound bundle, newly arrived from the hospital and decked out in a duck-themed onesie.

We asked his parents if there was any special meaning to his name, and we found out that his first name means “Big Hope” in Korean. As I held him, I looked in his eyes—wide and unblinking, taking in everything with solemn contemplation. Big Hope. So much hope wrapped in something so small.

Not long after our visit, I was talking to my Tuesday prayer buddy. We’ve been praying over one thing consistently ever since we started meeting. Week after week, year after year. “I’ve been wondering,” she said. “What’s the point of hoping?” The question wasn’t bitter, nor did it stem from a lack of belief. She was asking genuinely, almost pragmatically. “Is there any real benefit to hoping?”

The woman from Shunem described in 2 Kings 4 had the same question. She and her husband had shown hospitality to the prophet Elisha whenever he was in town, and he wanted to do something for her in return for her kindness. She insisted that she didn’t need anything—she had a pretty good life already. But Elisha heard that she had no children, and he knew immediately the perfect gift for her:

Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!”

 “No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.”

—2 Kings 4:15-16

Sure enough, though, she had a son, just as Elisha had promised. The miracle came true. Her hopes were fulfilled. But that’s not the end of the story.

When the boy was older, he was working out in the field with his father, and he suddenly became ill and died. The woman from Shunem went straight to Elisha, and she had a few words for him.

She said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”

—2 Kings 4:28

Like my friend, this woman couldn’t see any advantage to hoping. If you don’t hope for something and God delivers, it’s a pleasant surprise, right? And if that longed-for thing doesn’t happen, well, then, maybe it prevents a little piece of your heart from breaking.

Our friends were taken aback to discover that in the United States, Hope is exclusively a girl’s name. I guess I’d never given that much consideration, but come to think of it, it does seem a little strange. What kind of commentary does that offer our view of hope? Does the fact that we don’t name our boys Big Hope reflect that we consider it lightweight? Dainty, even?

The poet Emily Dickinson didn’t do much for hope’s macho image when she described it as “the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul.” Our lexicon betrays our own fluffy interpretation: “I hope it won’t rain.” “I hope he’ll call me.” “I hope that semi coming toward me gets back on his side of the road.” We treat hope like so much wishful thinking, a feather that falls haphazardly wherever it chooses.

After doing a little digging about hope, I was intrigued to discover that in church history, the image used to depict it was pretty much the opposite of a feather: an anchor (Hebrews 6:19). Up until around the fifth century AD, it was one of the main symbols for Christianity, more prevalent than a cross. Believers in the first century even had the image of an anchor etched into their tombs as a symbol of the eternal hope they clung to.

I have to wonder if hope isn’t so much about the thing we’re hoping for itself but a tether to keep us close to the Granter of Hopes. Without hope, we drift aimlessly in the big ocean of doubt and fear and uncertainty. The woman from Shunem did get her son back—he was miraculously brought back to life. But whether or not God gives us the specific thing we long for, I believe hope is worth it. Hope pulls us back in, close to the heart of the one who anchors our souls.

I pray that hope as an anchor for you, my Tuesday friend. And on the days you can’t hang on yourself, I will hold on to hope on your behalf.

Big Hope.

“Hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky….Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency.”
—Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Question: Is there something you are hoping for? If you are having trouble hanging on to hope right now, I would be honored to pray for you.

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 Best Things Are Said in a Whisper June 26, 2012

Filed under: 1 Kings,secret — Stephanie Rische @ 1:36 pm

 So long as you’re the whisperer or the whisperee, whispering must be one of life’s sweet graces. It’s been so for me as long as I can remember.

 

Eight years old. In my ubiquitously pink bedroom. Unable to sleep. That’s when Mom comes in and sits at the edge of my bed. She rubs my back, tells me she loves me, and then whisper-sings “This Land Is Your Land” for as many verses as necessary before I’m fast asleep.

 

Eighteen years old. In my little sister’s room. Just home from a date. I’m heeding her strict orders to say goodnight and fill her in on everything, while defying Mom’s orders to let her sleep. We keep our voices to a whisper while ten-year-old Meghan worries that I’m a sneeze away from getting married and leaving her, and I tell her she’ll always be my sister, no matter what.

 

Twenty-one years old. In my college dorm room. Too late, considering I have an 8:00 a.m. class the next day. My roommate and I say whisper-prayers from our bunk beds, telling our dreams to each other and to God, asking him to show us the footsteps he wants us to follow.

 

Twenty-five years old. At my friend Jen’s dinner table. Sitting next to my four-year-old buddy Zach. His favorite pastime throughout the meal is interjecting that he has a secret for me. He whispers the same words in my ear each time: “I love you.”

 

Thirty-three years old. In the same pavilion where Daniel and I went on our first date. My heart pounding, my eyes welling with happy tears. His eyes are locked on mine, his knee is bended into the rock-cobbled ground. “Will you marry me?” he whispers.

 

There must be something magical about whispering that gives us the courage to share things we’d never share under the bright lights of the public eye. And I have to believe there’s a special bond that forms in those moments, a kind of whisper-intimacy that is knitted together with invisible threads of trust and sound waves.

 

When someone says something in your ear, you know those words are intended for you, and you alone. There’s no other audience. The message is so intimate, so precious, that the only space sacred enough for it to be shared is in a whisper.

 

The prophet Elijah received a whisper-message himself. I wonder if he was secretly disappointed at first that it didn’t come in more dramatic fashion. After all, it came on the heels of one of the loudest miracles of the Old Testament—the contest on Mount Carmel when God soundly trounced the false god Baal (1 Kings 18). So it doesn’t seem like too much for Elijah to expect a big sign when he felt alone and needed to hear from God.

 

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.

—1 Kings 19:11-12

 

No, God didn’t speak in the form of anything so public as a windstorm, an earthquake, or a fire.

 

And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.

—1 Kings 19:12

 

He spoke to his beloved Elijah in a gentle whisper. Not because his voice couldn’t get loud enough or because he wasn’t able to perform a big miracle, but because he had something sacred, something intimate, to share with Elijah. Something intended for his ears alone.

 

That same God is whispering to you today. Can you hear him?

 

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.

 

Why I’m Trying to Embrace the Cattle Prod June 22, 2012

Filed under: Ecclesiastes — Stephanie Rische @ 12:14 pm
Tags: , ,

My friend Cheryl has three hobbies she’s passionate about: playing with her cat, Frisky; listening to music by Bebo Norman; and going to the doctor.

Cheryl was born with an extra 21st chromosome, commonly known as Down syndrome. She is also one of the most social, personable individuals I know. To know her is to be her friend. The moment you walk in the room, her whole face lights up in a huge grin. Not content to just sit next to you, she’ll likely take your hand and, with that wide smile of hers, say, “I like you.”

So I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she enjoys visits to the doctor. After all, everyone in the office knows her name, gives her attention, and ultimately has her best interests at heart. Although some parts of the visit may be painful, she knows that all this is necessary so she’ll feel better in the long run.

I was thinking about Cheryl when I came across these words in the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon’s final collection of writings:

The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep.

—Ecclesiastes 12:11

Words of wisdom, as the wise Solomon knew, can be as painful as a cattle prod. Having someone speak truth into our lives can be as piercing, as uncomfortable, as being corralled by a shepherd, given a shot by a doctor.

Unlike Cheryl, I don’t like doctor visits. More often than not, I’d prefer to remain in blissful ignorance. If there’s no diagnosis, then there won’t be any uncomfortable prodding. And perhaps most of all, there’s no need for change.

I’m afraid I’m often the same way when it comes to words of truth and accountability too. I prefer to stay in my place of comfortable oblivion rather than subject myself to the cattle prod of wisdom.

Not long ago Cheryl had surgery to alleviate some chronic back pain she’d been dealing with. While she was recovering, a relative told her, “Now, Cheryl, you need to make sure you take care of yourself so you don’t have to have another surgery.”

A look of sheer disappointment fell over Cheryl’s face. She went into the corner by herself for a few minutes, arms folded as she pondered. Finally she returned to the living room, where her family was gathered.

“I thought about it,” she said, “and I decided I can get another surgery if I want to.”

Oh, Cheryl, if only I were more like you—more open to the cattle prod. I have a feeling I’d be healthier…and a whole lot wiser too.

 

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.

 

Tuesday’s Child June 19, 2012

Filed under: Proverbs — Stephanie Rische @ 8:11 am
Tags: , ,

When I was little, I was secretly envious of my sister. Not because she grew up eating ice cream on a regular basis or because she got to stay up late and play bridge with Mom and “the ladies” while I was in bed. No, it was all because of the day of her birth.

Meghan was born on a Friday, and according to the little nursery rhyme, that meant she was “loving and giving.” And here’s the thing: she was. Even from a young age, we had to keep a close eye on her piggy bank because she was liable to hand the whole thing over to the nearest person she deemed in need.

I was born on a Tuesday, which allegedly meant I was “full of grace.” At age ten, I took that to mean I made elegant, ballet-like movements. And while it’s true that I was enrolled in gymnastics, I had kicked way too many people while doing cartwheels in the hallway for anyone to believe there was anything akin to grace happening there. But being loving and giving—now that felt like something a little more practical.

I was watching the trials for the Olympics the other day, and I was struck by the undeniable grace of the divers in the platform event. As I watched, it hit me that maybe physical grace and spiritual grace have more in common than I realized. In both cases, whether you’re diving off the high dive or forgiving someone who has wronged you, there’s a kind of apparent effortlessness to it.

Although the one doing the gracing knows how many bruises and tears have brought them to this point, the spectators only see something beautiful. For an action to be truly graceful, there can’t be a sense of “Look at me!” or “Hey, everyone, check out how hard this is!” No, to be “full of grace” is to do something hard and make it look easy.

As with diving, grace-giving can feel a lot like standing on a 33-foot ledge, looking down into the swirling water below. That is to say, terrifying. And neither of these Olympic tasks happens automatically—they both require a lot of practice. But grace is worth the effort. It is so extraordinary, so compelling, that the watching world takes note when it happens.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this little proverb lately—so simple, but definitely not easy:

A gracious woman gains respect.

—Proverbs 11:16

So today I want to put my toes right up to the ledge and dive headfirst into grace. I’ll never be a platform diver, but with a little practice, I just may start looking more like the Tuesday’s child I was intended to be.

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.

 

Dad’s Treasure Box June 15, 2012

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:17 am
Tags: , ,

My siblings and I joke that there’s only one thing we want to make sure Dad leaves to us in his will: his treasure box. Now treasure is a bit of a relative term here, as there’s nothing of monetary value in it. From the rare, coveted glimpses I’ve gotten inside the ratty cardboard box, I’ve gathered that it contains things like special rocks Dad collected as a boy, pennies flattened on railroad tracks, a few of his favorite comic books, and typewritten pages of short stories he wrote for his college class.

 

As I read the book of Proverbs, I keep thinking of all Solomon had to pass down to his children. It was quite a legacy, really: unprecedented wealth, a world-renown reputation, and an entire kingdom to leave behind as an inheritance (2 Chronicles 9). Yet throughout Proverbs, it’s obvious he was concerned about leaving only one legacy behind for future generations: a legacy of wisdom.

 

My child, listen when your father corrects you.
Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.
What you learn from them will crown you with grace
and be a chain of honor around your neck.
—Proverbs 1:9-10

 

Fortunately for me, both my dad and my mom have the wisdom of Solomon. They, too, have left me a legacy of wise instructions—proverbs of their own that still echo in my head after all these years:

 

Follow through.
Be smart.
Put yourself in their shoes.
Practice, practice, practice.
Write your thank-you notes.
People are more important than things.
Don’t get a big head.
Sleep on it.
Pray about it.
Check your tires.

 

Thank you, Dad and Mom, for those pearls of wisdom. They are indeed a “crown of grace” for my brother and sister and me—better than any legacy of wealth, fame, or inheritance you could leave behind for us.

 

But Dad, can I have your treasure box anyway?

 

Question: What is one pearl of wisdom your parents passed on to you?

 

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.

 

My Month of Dating Disasters June 13, 2012

Filed under: Love — Stephanie Rische @ 8:09 am
Tags: , ,

Today marks the two-year anniversary of my first date with the man I married, so it seems fitting to reflect on the person who has been one of the most tangible expressions of God’s grace in my life.

When I met Daniel, I was taken with him from the very beginning—“smitten,” as my sister frequently reminded me. So I wanted to do everything I could to make a good impression on this man. It quickly became apparent that wasn’t meant to be. Within the span of just a few dates, I managed to make an egregious fool of myself on three separate occasions.

 

Occasion #1: The two-smoke alarm dinner

I’m not exactly a cook, but I do have about three standby meals I feel fairly confident about whipping together. Daniel was coming over for dinner and we were still in the “under three” category, so while I was a bit nervous, I wasn’t panicking. The star of the meal was my sister’s famous focaccia bread recipe, something I’d made plenty of times before.

However, it wasn’t long before my visions of golden-brown crusty deliciousness went up in smoke—literally. Daniel and I were chatting in my kitchen when suddenly I heard the piercing beep of not one but two smoke detectors. I opened the oven to discover, to my horror, that the bread wasn’t just overcooked. It was actually on fire. So much for Betty Crocker.

 

Occasion #2: The face plant

Something you should know about me is that my footwear of choice tends to be slippers or flip-flops, depending on the season. Any heel measured in something larger than centimeters is reserved for the occasional bridesmaid duty. I’m not sure what possessed me to wear the strappy, impractical sandals on my third date with Daniel, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

That night as Daniel walked me to my car, I never saw the tree branch protruding from the grass. I was on the ground before I knew what had hit me. It wasn’t one of those graceful missteps either—it was an all-out tumble, the kind where you biff so hard you don’t have time to break the fall and the contents of your purse spill out all over the grass. Hypothetically speaking.

Occasion #3: The navigational disaster

It was the fourth of July, and Daniel was going to a picnic to meet my church friends for the first time. I’m infamous for my navigational impairments, but I hadn’t exactly mentioned that to Daniel yet. I had carefully researched and printed out directions, and I thought I was ready.

Until we got to the street where the party was being hosted…and there was no house with the specified number. After some unproductive wandering and several confusing phone calls, I finally discovered that the address was indeed correct…but the city was not. Uh, yes, minor detail.

***

As chagrined as I was for royally botching things up on each occasion, ultimately these flubs turned out to be the best thing that could have happened in our young relationship. For one thing, Daniel might as well have known from the beginning who I am: a girl who is, inherently, a mess. A girl who can’t go many consecutive dates before things go up in smoke.

And it turned out that my faux pas gave me a glimpse into the character of this man I was coming to appreciate more and more. In each situation, Daniel responded with the kind of grace that made my knees go weak. As the smoke alarms went off, he fanned the air and assured me we had plenty of food to eat. After my spill, he helped me off the ground and gently made sure I was okay. When I found myself directionally flustered, he patiently drove around a three-city radius until we finally reached our destination.

I received the gift of his grace that month, and I also had the rare window of seeing how this man would respond one day in the future, when the stakes were higher than burned bread. Two years later, I see that my hunch was right: this man is a daily reflection of God’s grace to me.

Happy two years of knowing you, Daniel Rische.

“I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
—Anne Lamott

 

Grace Spottings June 8, 2012

Filed under: Grace spottings — Stephanie Rische @ 8:03 am
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I’ve been awed by several grace spottings lately, and I didn’t want to keep them all to myself. Here are three I’d like to share with you.

Grace Spotting #1: Our Good and Perfect Gift

Amy Julia Becker has written this touching post about her young daughter Penny, who has Down syndrome. When she and her husband received the news about Penny’s condition shortly after she was born, they were initially hit by a wave of doubt and shock. But over these past few years of Penny’s life, they have come to see that their smiley, pigtailed little girl is a gracious gift from the hand of God. In Amy Julia’s words, they have moved “from darkness to light, from sorrow to joy, from fear to wonder, from doubt to faith, from bitter to sweet.”

I highly recommend her book as well: A Good and Perfect Gift.

 

Grace Spotting #2: Craving Grace

Lisa Velthouse is one of the most grace-filled people I know, so it should come as no surprise that her book is called Craving Grace. For most of her life, Lisa thought Christianity was about doing things right, about being a “nice Christian girl.” Her memoir is about how God revealed his surprising sweetness to her, how he shocked her with how abundant, how scandalous, his grace really is.

When you read this book, you’ll feel like you’ve made a new friend. An authentic, grace-filled friend.

Grace Spotting #3: Forever Family

To me, grace looks a lot like this: a parent loves a child and gives her a home, for no reason other than love. If that’s the case, then Casa Viva is in the grace business. This nonprofit organization is committed to finding families for orphaned or abandoned children in Latin America. I had the privilege of serving with them on a short-term trip several years ago, and I found myself amazed by the hospitality of the staff and the families who dedicated their lives to caring for the fatherless.

This story from the Casa Viva blog is about a little girl named Gloria and her brother, David. It will give you a glimpse of grace (and maybe, as in my case, a sweet lump in your throat).

 

Have a grace-filled weekend!