Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Imago Dei January 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephanie Rische @ 8:19 am
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With all due respect to the pastors and professors I’ve been privileged to learn from over the years, some of my best lessons in theology have come from children (see these ponderings) or those with childlike hearts.

 

Not long ago I was having lunch at my friend Luann’s house with our friends Cheryl and Heather. Cheryl has faith of the purest variety, and she radiates joy in a way I can only dream of. She also happens to have Down syndrome. (For more about Cheryl, read this story.)

 

Cheryl was especially full of joy at lunch that day because she got to meet Heather’s twin babies for the first time. I’m not sure Cheryl understood what a double miracle these babies are (check out the amazing story here), but she was doubly taken with the idea of not just one but two babies.

 

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The moment Heather brought little Claire inside from the cold and unzipped her carrier, Cheryl rushed over to take a look. She leaned in close to gaze at Claire’s big-eyed smile before planting a kiss right on Claire’s cheek. And then, lifting her face to the ceiling, Cheryl whispered, “The face of God.”

 

Heather and Luann and I just stared at each other. It was truer than anything we could have said ourselves.

 

The face of God.

 

Luann finally broke the spell with her trademark humor. “What about me, Cheryl?” she asked, pointing to her own face. “Don’t you think the same thing when you look at me?”

 

Cheryl broke into a grin. “Yeah, you too,” she said. “Everybody shows us the face of God.”

 

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She’s right, I know. But how often I forget it.

 

The Bible opens with a statement every bit as radical as Cheryl’s, right from the first chapter of the first book:

God created human beings in his own image.

In the image of God he created them.

—Genesis 1:27

 

Imago Dei: the idea that human beings have inherent value because they’re made in the image of God. Not because of what they can accomplish or contribute, but simply because they reflect their Creator.

 

What would it look like, I wonder, if I could start seeing people that way? The way Cheryl does?

 

The person who just cut me off in traffic.

Imago Dei.

 

The person who is socially awkward or less than beautiful by the world’s standards.

Imago Dei.

 

The person who is just downright difficult to love.

Imago Dei.

 

The man without a home, the woman with the mental illness, the leader who broke his promise, the coworker who burns the popcorn.

All of them, Imago Dei.

 

I once heard a lovely legend about God’s creation of human beings. According the story, God looked into a mirror, and the mirror shattered into millions of pieces. The pieces fell to the earth below, and each one became a unique individual. Now each person reflects a different part of God’s face, and we can’t get the full picture of what he looks like until we seek him in the faces of all those around us.

 

So thank you for the reminder, Cheryl. When we gaze into the face of a human being, it is no small thing. For in a real way, we are getting a glimpse into the very face of God.

 

How would it change the way you saw yourself if you knew you were Imago Dei?

How would it change the way you saw other people if you knew they were Imago Dei?

 

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On the Lookout for Treasure January 25, 2013

Filed under: Real Life — Stephanie Rische @ 1:33 pm
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Daniel and I are currently on an American Pickers kick. In case you’ve never seen this History Channel series, the basic premise is that two guys, Mike and Frank, hit the road in a big van, traveling the U.S. looking for treasures amid people’s hoarded junk.

For me it’s part horror, part cautionary tale to see the piles of stuff people have collected over the span of years, decades, even generations. I find myself hyperventilating when they open the door to people’s barns or garages to find them stuffed wall to wall, floor to ceiling with junk. Rusty, grimy, decaying junk. I usually vow on the spot to clean out all my closets. And then I suggest to the guys on the screen, rather forcefully, that they might be better off getting a bottle of lighter fluid and torching the place.

 

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But the pickers are more patient than I am, and they can see something I can’t: there just may be pieces of treasure tucked in with the trash. They have different eyes than I do—eyes that can see below the surface and take in the underlying value of something.

 

One of the fascinating parts about the show is watching the price haggling being played out on the screen. How do they know what something is worth? I wondered at first. Then we watched an episode where Mike and Frank sold some of their wares to an interested buyer—a collector with moola to spare. And suddenly this realization hit me, obvious as it was: The value of something is determined by what someone will pay for it.

 

And so it is for the likes of us. We may look like junk. We may be surrounded by trash. We may feel rusty, dirty, washed-up. But God traveled great distances to seek us out, combing the earth to and rescue us from the trash heap. If you ever question your worth, wondering if you have any value, know that someone—the God of the universe, no less—was willing to pay the ultimate price for you. The life of his own Son.

 

I have swept away your sins like a cloud.
I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.
Oh, return to me,
for I have paid the price to set you free.
—Isaiah 44:22

 

{For more musings on this topic, see my post Trashed.}

 

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Sweet Sundays, Part 1 January 22, 2013

Filed under: Sweet Sundays — Stephanie Rische @ 8:13 am
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When my grandmother was a girl, Sunday was a day for taking the team of horses to her little white country church in North Dakota. Her father did the bare minimum of chores around the farm—like milking the cows before the sun came up—but all other work ceased. Even knitting was a borderline activity, since some people argued the creative aspect of it constituted work.

 

When my mom was growing up, most stores and restaurants were closed on Sundays, and on the rare occasion when her family had to go to the drugstore to pick up an emergency item, her father would apologize to the cashier for making him work on the Sabbath.

 

A generation later, when I was a kid, Sundays were family day at my house. We’d have brunch together after church, and then we’d go on a walk in the woods or play games together. No getting together with friends, no organized sports.

 

Now that I have a home of my own, I’m shocked to find how much our culture (and me with it) has changed in its attitude toward the Sabbath. Work has now infiltrated every part of life—it’s on our laptops, on our phones, at our very fingertips. While previous generations had to physically go out to the field or in to the office, work now finds us. We have to go to great lengths if we want to avoid it.

* * *

For the most part I’ve looked at God’s instructions about the setting aside a day of rest as something of an anachronism—rules that were meant for people in the Old Testament but didn’t really apply to us today. In fact, somewhere along the way I even got the idea that it was more righteous to have a strong work ethic, to be productive—even on Sundays. But the more I’ve looked at what the Bible says about the holiness of rest, the more trouble I’m having rationalizing away those commands. And the more I’m realizing, to my surprise, how much the instructions smack of delight rather than duty.

 

Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day.

—Isaiah 58:13

 

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

—Matthew 11:28

 

I’m also recognizing that while Jesus was criticized by the religious leaders of his day for breaking the Sabbath, he wasn’t throwing out the concept altogether. When he did things that enraged the religious leaders—most often healing the blind and the lame and the deaf—he wasn’t disregarding the Sabbath; he was rejecting the legalism of the manmade rules surrounding it (see here for an example). He was getting at the heart of the day of rest—setting aside time to slow down so we can honor the Lord, catch our spiritual breath, refocus on what’s really important.

 

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So what does a grace-based view of a day of rest look like? I’m not entirely sure, but I want to find out.

 

With my bent toward legalism, I’m not sure the best idea would be to make a bunch of Pharisaical rules for Sundays. And I don’t want it to be a day focused on the negative—what I can’t do. I want it to be about what I can do—what brings life and freedom and closeness with God.

 

So here are the two litmus-test questions I plan to use to determine if something is a worthy activity for a Sunday:

 

1. Does it feel like work?

2. Is it life-giving?

 

I don’t know exactly what this adventure will look like, but I invite you to join me in reserving a weekly day of rest. I invite you to explore what it might look like for us to cease work and discover things that fill us with life and peace.

 

I’d love to have your feedback and help as I embark on this quest.

1. What do you need to turn off or stop doing to allow yourself to rest?

2. What feels like true rest for you?

 

Recommended reading: Matthew Sleeth’s book 24/6 was instrumental for me in kick-starting this journey toward rest. I highly recommend it—it’s an easy, engaging, grace-filled read.

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 “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it rests in Thee.”
—Augustine of Hippo

 

48 Pieces of Fried Chicken January 18, 2013

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When Daniel and I walked into the grocery store the other night, we were just expecting to pick up a few things for dinner. We weren’t anticipating so much drama.

 

When we checked out, the couple in front of us had two huge tubs of fried chicken, the aroma of which wafted through the checkout area, setting our stomachs to rumbling. After all our items had been scanned and bagged, we noticed that the couple remained standing there, apparently still waiting for their chicken.

 

“Where did you put their bags?” the cashier asked the guy doing the bagging, a gangly teenager with a mop of blue-streaked hair.

 

He gave her a look of befuddlement. “You mean the chicken? I gave it to the woman in front of them.”

 

“Well, go to the parking lot!” she barked. “You’d better find her before she drives away.”

 

As the bagger dashed out of the store, Daniel and I looked at each other, trying our best not to split at the seams. We couldn’t decide what was funnier—the fact that the couple had patiently waited all this time for their fried chicken, which by now was probably halfway across town in an unidentified SUV, or the fact that at this very moment some woman was driving away wondering why her car smelled like KFC. I wished I could have seen her face when she arrived at home to find precisely 48 pieces of hot chicken in with the rest of her groceries.

 

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But our laughter evaporated the moment we exited the store. There was the bagger, standing in his shirtsleeves despite the freezing temperatures. He was shouting into the night air and throwing punches at the concrete post outside the store.

 

Daniel, who possesses the handy skillset of being able to strike up conversations with strangers and being able to calm potentially volatile situations, didn’t hesitate. “Hey,” he said to the boy. “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m just about ready to sack this job.” The kid swung another fist into the air.

 

As the conversation progressed, we found out the store was understaffed that day and the bagger felt like he couldn’t keep up. “And when I’m under pressure,” he said, “I do stupid things like this. I might as well quit before they fire me.”

 

Fortunately, among his other talents, Daniel also has the gift of encouragement. “You know, they need you in there. If you leave, what will they do without you? I know you can go in there and finish well tonight. It’ll work out.”

 

Before long, our bagger friend had calmed down and was ready to face the disgruntled cashier. I don’t know if he ended up quitting or not, but before he headed back in the store, he managed a small smile. “Thanks,” he said, nodding in Daniel’s direction.

 

As we made our way to our car, I couldn’t help but wonder how different that guy’s evening might have been if we’d just avoided the awkwardness and headed straight to our car.

 

To encourage literally means to pour courage into someone, and that’s exactly what Daniel did: he gave that boy the courage to turn around and go back into the store. But something I’d never considered much before was that encouragement also tends to require courage on the part of the one doing the encouraging. Daniel was only able to pour courage into this guy because he was courageous enough to enter his world.

 

Sometimes courage-pouring means stepping right into the middle of awkwardness when it would be easier to go our own way.

 

In his essay “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis extends this sobering charge about the way we treat the people we come into contact with each day—at work, at home, even at the grocery store. Since people are made in the image of God, he claims, they are no mere mortals. They deserve courage-pouring—all of them.

 

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

 

I confess that as Daniel and I drove away, we shamelessly peered into the window to find out what happened with the chicken. The last we saw, the couple was going back for two new buckets of fried chicken. We can only assume the other woman called a bunch of her friends over and had a party.

 

Encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

—1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

Up Close to Greatness January 15, 2013

Filed under: Real Life — Stephanie Rische @ 4:57 pm
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Thanks to a generous friend and a friend-of-a-friend who has season tickets to the Bulls games, Daniel and I were the recipients of an experience we never would have splurged on ourselves: eighth-row seats to a real-live NBA game.

 

I’ll never forget the moment the players stepped onto the court to warm up. I sucked in my breath as they walked toward us. “They’re not this tall on TV!” I kept whispering to Daniel. I’m sure it got old after I repeated myself for the eighth time, but I couldn’t get over how goliath they were in close proximity. “I think I come up to the waistband on number 13’s shorts!”

 

I’ve been a basketball fan for years, but being at a game in person—and in row 8, no less—was like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time after years of merely looking at photographs. Everything was bigger, faster, louder without a screen separating us. I could hear Nate Robinson announcing the plays, I could see the look in Luol Deng’s face when he was calling for the ball, I could hear the players’ yammerings with the refs, I could see just how fast Taj Gibson moved his feet to deke his defender.

 

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Shoot, we were so close I could practically smell the players’ sweat.

 

At halftime I found myself considering how much easier it is to take in a game secondhand. You don’t have to fight the traffic, you don’t have to find parking, you don’t have to fork over any hard-earned cash. You just turn on your TV and watch the game from the comfort of your couch. But that ease comes at a price—you also lose the grandness of the firsthand experience.

 

I wonder how often I try to take the shortcut in other areas of my life too. It’s more effort, more time to get together with a friend, so I take the easy route and send a message or post a quick note on her wall. There’s nothing wrong with those convenient methods of communication, of course—as long as they don’t creep in to become a cheap replacement of the real thing.

 

And what about my relationship with God? How often do I settle for a secondhand relationship with him, content to hear about him through a sermon or a book or a friend without taking the extra effort to go deep myself?

 

“Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth….[Christ] waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.”

—A. W. Tozer

 

The Bulls, by the way, experienced a rather ugly loss to a team they should have beaten soundly. But it didn’t matter all that much. Just being eight rows from greatness was gift in itself.

 

Question: In what areas of your life are you settling for a secondhand experience?

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The Gift of Pain January 11, 2013

Filed under: Unexpected Lessons — Stephanie Rische @ 12:33 pm
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The other day started out with one of those crazy mornings. I had to switch the cars to get mine out of the garage, then I had to do some interesting maneuvers to back the cars—both of them—around our neighbor’s SUV on one side and the recycling bins on the other. To add insult to injury, half the world was cozy in bed, still on winter break, while I was scraping off the car in the icy darkness. And to top it all off, I was running late.

 

It was in the midst of these mental distractions that I slammed my car door. With my finger still in it.

 

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It was strange because I didn’t feel a thing at first…and that’s what made me most nervous. Surely the top of my finger had been severed at the knuckle.

 

My pain-free bliss lasted about ten minutes into my commute, when suddenly I felt the most intense throbbing I’ve experienced since dropping a jumbo-sized bottle of hot sauce on my big toe in the third grade. Yep, my finger was still there all right. It was also bleeding profusely into my mitten.

 

But in the midst of my grumbling and complaining, this thought struck me with such force that I felt compelled to say it aloud: “The pain means my finger is still there. The pain means I’m very much alive.”

In his brilliant book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Pain as God’s megaphone.

In the past year there have indeed been moments when my heart felt like it had been slammed hard in the car door, and it throbbed like the dickens (for more on that, take a look here). For the most part I nursed my wounds, grumbling and complaining, scheming about how to anesthetize the pain as quickly as possible.

 

But what if Lewis was right? What if those times when we experience pain are actually God’s way of getting our attention? What if the pain is an indication not only that we are indeed alive, but also that something may be off kilter in our lives?

 

Without pain, we keep going through life on autopilot, utterly distracted. But pain snaps us into focus, helps us reprioritize.

 

We don’t have much choice about when the pain comes, but we do have a choice about what we’ll do with it. Will we numb out as quickly as possible, thereby missing what God may be trying to tell us through the pain?

 

Next time I get slammed in the proverbial car door, I pray I’ll listen. I pray the megaphone will get my attention.

 

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God’s Stocking Stuffers January 8, 2013

Filed under: Grace — Stephanie Rische @ 1:11 pm
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Almost two years ago, my friend Mary and her husband, John, went to Ukraine to meet their new son and bring him home. Igor had grown up in rather frugal conditions in the orphanage, so he was pretty blown away by his first Christmas in the States last year. Even now, a year later, he’s still trying to wrap his mind around the extravagant traditions in his new home.

 

“We get gifts and stockings?” he kept wondering aloud to his older brothers.

 

I asked Mary if Igor had any special requests for Christmas this year.

 

“Yes,” she told me with a smile. “He was really excited about the idea of getting an apple in his stocking.”

 

An apple.

 

Mary and John were happy to oblige. They’re his parents, after all, and those gifts are just one of many ways they delight in showing their son how much he’s loved.

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s gifts to us, despite how undeserving we are. He puts big gifts for us under the tree—or, more aptly, nailed to the tree—things like salvation and forgiveness and reconciliation with him.

 

He could stop there, and the gift would be sufficient for all of eternity. But that’s not the extent of his generosity. He also stuffs our stockings, showering us with bonus gifts that have no purpose other than to show us his delight in us, to reveal his extravagant love.

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The other night as I was climbing into bed, I was greeted by Daniel’s stuffed rat on my pillow. Now lest you doubt my husband’s romanticism, I should assure you that where we come from, “Rat” is actually a term of endearment.

 

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Daniel and I discovered early on when we were dating that among other startling family similarities (for instance: his dad is one of 13 siblings; my dad is one of 12), both our dads called us “Rat” or “Little Rat” as an affectionate nickname.

 

As we got ready for bed that night, Daniel said with a chuckle, “You know, every time our dads called us Rat growing up, God must have just smiled. Like he was saying, Don’t worry, guys—I’ve got this one.

 

My mind wandered back to all those years when I’d been waiting for Mr. Right (as I mentioned in this post), wondering if God would answer my prayers, when all along he had the perfect person for me. Even down to the weird nickname.

 

I wonder how many other times I doubt God, thinking he doesn’t see my pain, when actually he’s just waiting for the precise moment to reveal the gift he has all planned out. Don’t worry, he must be saying. I’ve got this one.

 

God gives us those little bonus gifts along the way—stocking stuffers, if you will—not because he owes us anything, but to show us how much he loves us. To remind us that he has our lives covered, even if we can’t see the whole picture yet.

 

He does, after all, love his little rats.

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