Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Healing of the Slow Variety October 30, 2012

Filed under: Mark — Stephanie Rische @ 8:11 am
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Two people I love are struggling with physical ailments right now—the kind where doctors can’t quite figure out what’s going on and recovery is agonizingly slow.

 

I’ve been praying for a miracle for them—a miracle of the quick variety. There is some precedent for these kinds of speedy healings in the Bible. Many times throughout the Gospels, Jesus puts his hand on someone and brings instant recovery. The deaf hear. The blind see. Pick up your mat and go home. 

 

 

After reading story upon story in the Gospels when Jesus merely says the word and a little girl is healed, or a woman touches the hem of his garment and is immediately restored, I was a bit surprised by Mark’s account of a blind man who was brought to Jesus for healing:

 

Some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged him to touch the man and heal him. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?”

The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.”

Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly.

—Mark 8:22-25

 

Why, I wonder, did Jesus have to touch the man’s eyes twice before he could see clearly? No doubt Jesus had the power to heal in one fell swoop if he’d wanted to, as he’d done on numerous occasions in the past. So what was different this time?

 

I can only venture guesses as to why. Maybe the gradual healing was for the blind man’s sake. Maybe he was able to more fully appreciate his sight when it was unveiled to him one step at a time. Or maybe the phases of healing were so the blind man could share his unique story afterward.

 

I recently had the privilege of hearing Steve Saint speak. This once active man, the founder of the nonprofit ministry I-TEC, spoke to my company via Skype from his bed, where he has been confined for the past several months. In June of this year, he was injured by a piece of equipment he was testing, leaving him an incomplete paraplegic.

 

 

Steve is currently in the agonizing process of relearning the most basic of skills—figuring out where his hand is and then trying to make it move. People around the world are praying for a miracle for him, but at this point it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the one-step instantaneous type of miracle. It looks like for him, healing may come in stages.

 

But as difficult as this process must be for him and for his family, I am struck by the extraordinary testimony Steve has to tell as a result. It’s one thing to remain faithful to God when he does the quick miracle and you’re back to life as usual. It’s another thing altogether to proclaim God’s goodness while you’re flat on your back, struggling to swallow your own saliva.

 

“The church in America is used to serving out of a place of strength,” Steve said. “But now I’ve been given a gift. I’m learning what it means to serve out of my weakness.”

 

At the end of his talk, Steve shared the words of a poem called “The Thorn.” He knows now, in a whole new way, what it is to be a mendicant, a beggar, before God’s throne.

 

I stood a mendicant of God before His royal throne
And begged him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
I cried, “But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me.”
He said, “My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.”
I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace,
He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.

—“The Thorn” by Martha Snell Nicholson

* * *

Lord, we are beggars, every one of us. We beg you for healing, whether it comes in a moment or a lifetime. In the meantime, give us the story you want us to tell—and the courage to tell it.

 

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.

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Like Amish Peanut Butter October 24, 2012

Filed under: Luke — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
Tags: , ,

I have a weakness for peanut butter. On any given day, you’d likely find four jars of the stuff in our pantry: generic creamy, chunky, the brand-name “good stuff”… and a backup.

 

So when I received homemade Amish peanut butter from one of the authors my company works with, you can imagine my delight. Just one spoonful was enough for me to know I’d be ruined for all other peanut butter for the rest of time. In all my years of history with peanut butter, I’d never tasted such gooey, creamy, sweet deliciousness. The fact that it was made from scratch by a Pennsylvania woman in a bonnet only added to its divinity.

 

As I was eating my toasted peanut butter sandwich, I was reminded of the quote a friend of mine uses as part of her signature at the bottom of e-mails:

God spreads his grace thick and gloppy…the way a child spreads peanut butter.

 

It struck me as I took another bite that something like Amish peanut butter isn’t meant to be skimped on or rationed out. It isn’t meant to be analyzed for calorie count or obsessed over for exactly which spot on my hips it’s bound to end up.

 

Forgive me if this sounds a touch sacrilegious, but maybe my friend’s quote is right—maybe grace isn’t so different from peanut butter. God spreads his grace with such extravagance that it gets messy and smears all over us, until the globs rub off onto other people too.

 

When Jesus interacted with people, he was often accused by the religious folk of being too generous with grace. On one occasion when he was eating dinner with a group of people, he was approached by an “immoral woman” (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus didn’t condone the choices she’d made, but he extended forgiveness to her nonetheless. Forgiveness of the thick and gloppy variety.

 

I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love.

—Luke 7:47

 

Having received extravagant forgiveness, she responded with extravagant gratitude:

 

She brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

—Luke 7:37-38

 

No matter how hard we try, we’ll never deserve God’s extravagant grace. But we do have a choice about how we’ll receive it. Will we clench our teeth and portion it out over so many bread crumbs? Will we nibble each bite guiltily, washing it down with the sour milk of regret?

 

Or will we take in the gift the way it was meant to be received, with joy and abundance and overflowing gratitude, the way the woman in the book of Luke did?

 

May my peanut butter communion remind me of how God intends his grace to be: thick and gloppy. Like Amish peanut butter.

 

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.

 

Come as You Are October 16, 2012

Filed under: Mark — Stephanie Rische @ 8:13 am
Tags: , ,

When I was a kid, my favorite room in the house was the formal living room, for one simple reason: there was no furniture in it—just cushy white carpet and lots of space to cartwheel to my heart’s content.

 

The only thing in the room was a shelf with Mom’s Precious Moments collection in the corner. The rule was that I could do as many tumbling stunts as I wanted to, as long as I was careful not to veer into the corner and knock over the Precious Moments.

 

I was on a roll one day, going for a record number of cartwheels in a row, when I heard the stomach-churning sound of shattering glass. I looked down and, to my horror, saw that one of Mom’s beloved figurines had shattered into a pile of pointy shards.

 

There was no way I could tell Mom, I decided. I needed to fix this first. My initial stroke of genius was to reconstruct the figurine with tape, but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to work. The next obvious choice: I’d simply make her a new one. I snuck outside to gather twigs for the figurine’s arms and a little rock for the face, figuring I could paint the features on later. But as I tried to stick it all together with Silly Putty, I burst into tears. No paint job was going to salvage this sucker.

 

 

And so I did the only thing left to do: I went to Mom. I confessed. With lip quivering, I held out the handful of glass pieces and the lumpy-looking attempt at a replica. The hard truth was, I knew I’d never be able to pull it all together on my own.

 

As I’m reading the Gospels, I’m struck by what a ragtag band of followers Jesus had. These people who left everything to follow Jesus weren’t the spiritual elites of their day or the morally polished crowd. They didn’t have it all together. They were, in fact, in various states of mess.

 

There the fishermen (Luke 5:1-11), who got little respect in their culture—likely the rabbinical school dropouts. There were the tax collectors—the sleazy guys who ripped off their own people to get a bigger cut for themselves (Matthew 9:9). And there were the women of questionable reputation who didn’t do much for Jesus’ image (John 4).

 

When the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

—Mark 2:15-17

 

These people didn’t try to put themselves together before they came to Jesus; they knew that would be as futile as a child refusing to confess until she fixed the pricey collectible she’d broken.

 

I love that God doesn’t ask us to pull our act together before we come to him. We come as we are, and he changes who we are.

 

As I see myself in this lineup of people who came to Jesus, with their hands full of the messes they’d made, I’m reminded of one of the verses of the old classic hymn “Come Ye Sinners”:

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

 

If we wait to come to Jesus until we’re better, until we have our act together, we’ll never come at all.

 

When I went to Mom with the broken pieces of her figurine, she hugged me and extended forgiveness to me. Here she was the one who had been hurt, but she was consoling me. When we come to God in repentance, he does the same for us. He wraps us in his arms and wipes away our wrongs. And he alone can put the precious pieces back together again.

 

Today, if you find yourself compelled to try to clean yourself up before you come to God, I encourage you to take your mess and come to him. Just as you are. And know that he will accept you. Just as you are.

 

I beg you, do not tarry till you’re better.

 

Come now. Come as you are.

 

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 Upside-Down Kingdom October 12, 2012

Filed under: Matthew — Stephanie Rische @ 8:12 am
Tags: , ,

 

When I babysat for a family of four as a teenager, the worst and best part of the evening was bedtime. It was the worst for obvious reasons (elaborate stalling techniques, skirmishes over which bedtime story we’d read, and the usual accusations of “You’re not the boss of me”).

 

But my favorite part was prayer time just before bed. One by one the kids would go through the litany of people they loved, asking God to bless each one: “Please bless Mommy and Daddy, bless Nana and Grandpa, bless Brother and Sister, bless Baby Doll and my Beanie Babies.” All those blessings may have been part of the kids’ grander stalling scheme, but it was charming nonetheless.

 

I like to think my prayer life has progressed a bit beyond asking God to bless a laundry list of people, but I confess I still do a similar grown-up version, asking God to bless the people I love with health, happiness, security, steady jobs, good relationships. For smooth sailing, really.

 

Our version of the Beatitudes—of what it means to be blessed—would probably go something like this:

Blessed are those with enough money.
Blessed are those who are happy.
Blessed are the confident.
Blessed are those who stand up for their rights.
Blessed are those without major problems to speak of.

 

But when Jesus came, he flipped everything upside down. His description of true blessing runs exactly opposite of what we’d expect:

Blessed are the poor…
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are the humble…
Blessed are the merciful…
Blessed are those who are persecuted…
—Matthew 5

 

Jesus sees our troubles and longings here on earth, and he cares about those things. But he knows those surface-level concerns aren’t our deepest needs. While we focus on the here and now, he is looking at the eternal. He has his eye on who we’re becoming.

 

I love the words to Laura Story’s song “Blessings.” She poses the question, What if the trials we face are really God’s best blessings?

 

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things…

 

What if the trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?

 

Thank you, Lord, for loving us too much to give us merely what we ask for. Bless us, yes, but bless us with your blessings, not the watered down version we think we want.

 

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 Pages In Between October 9, 2012

Filed under: Joel,John — Stephanie Rische @ 5:04 pm
Tags: , ,

I was surprised to turn the page of my Bible the other day and discover that I’d jumped straight from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Since I’m reading the Chronological Bible, I didn’t have the usual clues like divider pages or those handy-dandy little thumb tabs to alert me.

 

According to canonical order, Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament, but scholars think Joel was actually the last of the prophets to give a message before the arrival of the Messiah. If that’s the case, then these are the final words God spoke to his people before the new covenant was ushered in. They are words full of hope and promise, grace and truth:

 

Judah will be filled with people forever,
and Jerusalem will endure through all generations.
I will pardon my people’s crimes,
which I have not yet pardoned;
and I, the Lord, will make my home
in Jerusalem with my people.
—Joel 3:20-21

 

With a simple turn of the page, I was amazed to see that promise directly fulfilled in the person of Christ:

 

The Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.
—John 1:14

 

God’s last words in the old covenant consisted of the promise to make his home with his people. And sure enough, in the book of John, Jesus is revealed as God in human form, moving into our neighborhood.

 

But things weren’t so clear cut for the people living in those years between Joel’s final prophesy and the angels’ announcement of Jesus’ arrival. They couldn’t just turn to the next chapter to see the fulfillment—they had to wait. And wait. And wait.

 

They waited for some 400 years, in fact. Think about it—for us that would be like getting a promise in the 1600s, in the days of Galileo or Shakespeare, and not seeing the results until now. With each passing generation, it must have gotten harder for the Israelites to hold on to this promise of Immanuel, harder to feel the truth of it, harder to believe it would actually happen one day.

 

It had to be hard to live in those blank pages between the two testaments.

 

And although today we have both the BC and the AD parts of the story, we often find ourselves in a similar spot, wondering and waiting on our own blank pages between the promise and the fulfillment. We have God’s words in broad strokes—that he will save and redeem and make all things new again—but there are so many things we don’t know while we wait. What, exactly, will it look like when the promise is fulfilled? Why do we have to wait? And perhaps most of all, for how long?

 

I don’t want to grow weary as I wait. I don’t want to forget the promise. I don’t want my belief to fade into little more than a distant memory. I want to wait well.

 

Come, Lord Jesus. Make your home among us. And in the meantime, let us wait with patience and hope whenever we find ourselves on the blank pages in between.

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.

 

A Letter to My 25-Year-Old-Self October 5, 2012

Filed under: birthday — Stephanie Rische @ 8:06 am
Tags: , , ,

Yesterday I celebrated my 35th birthday, and in honor of occasion I decided to write a letter to the ten-years-ago me, telling myself things I wish I’d known back then.

***

Dear 25-year-old me,

I have a few things I want to tell you. I know you think I don’t understand, but I do. I’ve been where you are. And I remember.

Thing #1: You know that script you have for your life—that one where you offer God your suggestions about just what will happen in your life, and when? How you’ll meet Prince Charming by the end of the year, get married, move into the white-picket-fenced house, and start a family somewhere around 28? Well, can I tell you something, as gently as I can? Maybe you should crumple up that script and throw it away. As your friends get married one by one (four this year, as I recall), it’s going to be hard. God isn’t going to comply with your script. But you know what? That’s actually a good thing. He has something in mind for you that is way better than anything you could have dreamed up. But if you’re going to embrace the story he has for you, you’re going to have to trust him. And you’re going to have to get your butt out of the director’s chair.

Thing #2: For most of your life you have been swayed by (dare I say obsessed with?) numbers—whether it’s your GPA, the number on the bathroom scale, the balance in your checking account, the age you imagined you’d be when you reached various milestones. You may not be able to hear this now, but believe me when I say that numbers aren’t as important as you think they are. Yes, you should keep giving your best effort, but do so knowing that numbers can never define you. God doesn’t quantify your worth by any set of integers—good or bad. And when it comes to those daunting odds that send tremors of panic through your soul, let me remind you that God has a pretty good track record when it comes to defying statistics.

Thing #3: I know you sometimes feel like there’s something wrong with you, like you’re somehow not good enough, not worthy enough, not lovable enough, and maybe you need to change who you are so you’ll find the love and acceptance you’re longing for. Don’t buy it. God made you the way you are, quirky parts and all. Someday a man will see you for who you are and love you that way. Not just in spite of your quirks, but because of them.

Thing #4: You’ve always been a seasonal girl, captivated by the crunch of leaves underfoot in the fall, the first snowflake on the tip of your tongue, the whiff of a fresh spring rain, the lazy warmth of a summer evening. What you need to know is that this time you’re going through, it’s a season too. I know you feel like you’re stuck on a treadmill while everyone around you is moving forward, but God is at work, even when it seems like he’s stubbornly silent. The parts of this season that seem endless, threatening to trudge on without end—they will cease. And believe it or not, there are parts of this season you’ll miss one day. So take the time to savor this season while it’s here instead of wishing it away.

Sincerely,

Your 35-year-old self

P.S. A few final tips:

Don’t take yourself so seriously.

Don’t be afraid of tears.

And by all means, buy the red couch.

***

As I write these things to my former self, I wonder what my 45-year-old self would say to me from a decade down the road—what I should stop worrying about, what I should embrace, what’s worth crying about, what deserves a good laugh.

I suppose there’s only one way to find out. So I’m going to jump into this year with both feet and try to become the person God meant me to be. One day at a time.

 

Small Beginnings October 2, 2012

Filed under: Zechariah — Stephanie Rische @ 8:14 am
Tags: , ,

My friend Catherine and I were in the midst of planning the annual Plaid Flannel Party when she paused mid-sentence and said to me, “You know we make such a good team? I’m a starter, and you’re a finisher!”

We cracked up, but it was true. Catherine has a gift for brainstorming creative ideas and giving them an energetic launch. I, on the other hand, often feel daunted by the beginning of something big and tend to be shy about pulling the trigger. But once things are in motion, I enjoy carrying the event out to completion.

As someone who can feel daunted by the beginning of things, I can relate to the Israelites who felt intimidated as they started the monumental task of rebuilding the Temple.

Perhaps you find yourself at a daunting starting point right now yourself, wondering how you’ll ever make it to the finish line. The wall is so big, the rocks are so heavy, the progress is so slow, and it’s tempting to give up. It would be easier, less risky, to just quit now. My message to you is the same one God gave to the Israelites all those years ago:

Do not despise these small beginnings.

—Zechariah 4:10

Maybe you have a toddler who is defying you at every turn. You’re trying to set firm boundaries, but it feels like you have to battle for every inch of progress.

Do not despise these small beginnings.

Maybe you’re trying to get out of debt, but the shovel is so small and the hole is so deep.

Do not despise these small beginnings.

Maybe you’re recovering from surgery, and healing seems like it’s light years away.

Do not despise these small beginnings.

Maybe you’ve been praying earnestly for someone you love, but so far you’ve seen only sporadic glimmers of hope.

Do not despise these small beginnings.

Maybe you’re trying to change something about yourself that is so deeply embedded you’re not sure change is even possible.

Do not despise these small beginnings.

Whatever daunting challenge you are facing today, may you know that God delights in your efforts, even those small beginnings. And I pray that along the way you will have friends who come beside you—a starter to encourage you to begin, and a finisher to help you end strong.

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.