Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Sweet Sundays, Part 2 February 21, 2013

snail2In this post from January, I wrote about my journey toward embracing a day of rest. Here’s the latest on my Sabbath experiment.

 

Not long ago I was pulled over for speeding on a Sunday morning—on the way to church, no less. The irony was not lost on me. A day of rest, and I’m rushing to get there? I managed to explain my way out of the ticket, but not the breaking of the heart of the Sabbath.

 

One thing I’m noticing about the Sabbath is that rest, by its very nature, forces a slower pace. And while on the one hand that sounds appealing, it can also be terrifying when you’ve grown accustomed to the adrenaline-inducing rush that comes with our culture’s frenetic pace.

 

I’m finding that on Sundays I have to intentionally take my foot off the gas pedal. I have to resist the urge to go faster, even when I’m not going anywhere.

 

One baby step I’ve taken to slow down the Sunday pace is to reconsider my communication. E-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, by their very design, are fast paced. 140 characters. A jotted note. A quick Send button. I’m realizing, come Sunday, that I need to unplug. I’m not suggesting this as a blanket rule for everyone, but for me personally, media is no friend to rest. So I’ve taken to writing letters on Sundays instead. Old-fashioned, pen and paper letters. The kind with a stamp.

letters3

In the charming little book For the Love of Letters: The Joy of Slow Communication, the author talks about the awkwardness of getting back into a letter-writing habit after years of fast communication. He says: “The nib touches the paper. And instinctively I follow the old formula….My writing looks weird. I hand-write so infrequently these days that I’ve developed a graphic stammer—my brain’s way of registering its impatience and bemusement. What are you doing? Just send an email! I haven’t got all night!

 

I’ve been surprised to discover that not only is the form slower in letter writing, but so is the content. I write about different things when I’m penning a letter than I do when I’m shooting off an e-mail or a Facebook message. I tend to write about bigger things, deeper things, more permanent things, not just the wispy matters of the right-now.

 

Catherine Field said in a New York Times article, “A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure. It is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber-communication can never do.”letters1

 

And that feels in line with the Sabbath to me: slowing down to open a window to the soul.

 

“When your tongue is silent, you can rest in the silence of the forest. When your imagination is silent, the forest speaks to you. It tells you of its unreality and of the Reality of God. But when your mind silent, then the forest suddenly becomes magnificently real and blazes transparently with the Reality of God.”

—Thomas Merton

 

How about you? What does restful (and not restful) look like for you?

Have you taken any steps toward implementing a Sabbath lately?

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A True Story of Love and War and 67 Years February 19, 2013

gpa planeThe year was 1946. The Nuremburg war trials had begun. Wartime price controls were being lifted in the United States. And America’s boys were slowly trickling back from the war…including the tall, dark-haired Lieutenant Voiland, having defied the odds and survived countless bombing missions on the European front.

 

His fiancée, Cay, had been waiting and praying anxiously, day by day, month by month, year by year, longing for her sweetheart to come home. She’d been planning their wedding while he was gone—the ultimate act of hope in the midst of a war in which half a million men who left never returned. With her trademark spunk, she refused to let the scarcity of silk prevent her from having a wedding dress, so she arranged to have a dress made from the unlikeliest of sources (I wrote about the remarkable story here).

 

For most of my life, I assumed Grandma and Grandpa’s February wedding date had been scheduled around Valentine’s Day. Whenever we gathered to celebrate as an extended family, we marked the occasion with red decorations and a heart-shaped cake, and I never heard anything to indicate otherwise.

 

It was only recently that I discovered their wedding date was determined not by Valentine’s Day but by Ash Wednesday.

 

“Ash Wednesday?” I asked Grandma. The dots weren’t connecting for me.

 

“Things were stricter back then,” Grandma said. “You couldn’t get married during Lent.”

g and g wedding

Of course—Lent. The church took seriously this 40-day period of sacrifice, fasting, and repentance, and it was not the time for weddings and feasts.

 

Grandma winked at me. “I’d been waiting long enough,” she said. “I wasn’t about to wait until after Easter!”

 

And so, on a Tuesday morning, just a day before Ash Wednesday, they squeezed in a simple ceremony at the campus chapel. I’ve always been enchanted by the lone black-and-white photograph of Grandma and Grandpa on their wedding day: Grandma looking beautiful and big eyed in that one-of-a-kind gown, and Grandpa, serious and handsome as ever in his classic suit.

***

This year Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday fell one day apart from each other, just a week before my grandparents’ 67th anniversary, and I was struck by the tender intersection of these sacred occasions: Valentine’s Day. A much-anticipated wedding. Ash Wednesday. Lent. An anniversary marking almost seven decades of marriage. And it got me to wondering: maybe Ash Wednesday is the perfect backdrop for a wedding after all. Valentine’s Day offers fine sentiments, of course—an appropriate reminder for us to express our love each year. But real love may be more aptly captured by a day marked by sacrifice and surrender and the choice to lay down one’s life.

 

Grandma and Grandpa know this well. The war showed them the cost of love from the very beginning: the agonizing separation—both by an ocean and by endless days, when the only threads connecting them were their love and a string of handwritten letters. And just because the war ended, that didn’t mean the sacrifices did. With the ratio of one income to 12 children, they sometimes had more month than they had money.

 

And now, as my grandparents are in their golden years, they are dealing with the sacrifices of caring for each other’s needs as their bodies and minds aren’t quite what they used to be.

 

But if you asked them about the cost of love, they’d likely look at you with a bewildered shrug. That’s just what love does. It’s the very nature of love to give, to sacrifice, to lay down one’s life for one’s beloved.

 

And that is, after all, what we celebrate during Lent. This season marks the greatest romance of all time: the Savior who sacrificed everything to show us his love. The one who fought courageous battles on our behalf. The one who laid down his life for the ones he loves.

 

Love and Lent. Perhaps they’re more connected than I realized. G&G

 

So happy 67th anniversary, Grandma and Grandpa.

 

And happy VaLENTine’s season, everyone.

***

If you’d like to read more about my grandma and grandpa’s love story, including how Grandma’s dress was passed down to two more generations, check out my aunt Annie’s story here.

 

To Anyone Who Feels Underloved on Valentine’s Day February 14, 2013

Filed under: Love — Stephanie Rische @ 12:35 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

unloved4I write this with no credentials except that I’ve spent my share of Valentine’s Days solo. And I know firsthand that there’s no way around it: it stinks to feel alone on Valentine’s Day.

 

I remember being single and having nice people try to cheer me up whenever February 14 rolled around. (Which it inevitably did. Every. Single Year.) I appreciated their kindness, but it kind of felt like getting a stick of gum when you’re ravenous for steak.

 

All that to say, I won’t pretend that anything I can say will make this day easier. But I feel compelled to say it anyway, just to let you know that you are not invisible. You are not alone. And even when it doesn’t feel like it, you are loved.

 

Today, if you feel betrayed or abandoned by someone you thought would never leave, this is what God says to you:

I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.

—Hebrews 13:15

 

Today, if you feel alone in this big world, God says:

Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

—Matthew 28:20

 

Today, if you feel forgotten, like so many leftovers, God says:

I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

—Isaiah 49:15-16

 

Today, if you feel like you got passed over when Cupid was flinging his arrows, this is what God says:

I have loved you…with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.

—Jeremiah 31:3

unloved3

Today, if you feel unnoticed, damaged, unappreciated, devalued, here’s God’s promise:

The Lord your God is living among you.

He is a mighty savior.

He will take delight in you with gladness.

With his love, he will calm all your fears.

He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

—Zephaniah 3:17

 

As for me, my love isn’t close to God’s love. It has conditions, it lets people down, it’s forgetful, it’s self-centered and fickle and cantankerous. But my prayer this Valentine’s Day is that God will weed out my own love from my heart and replace it with his love. Love that is unconditional and pure and selfless.

 

“In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give.”

—C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

 

It’s with that generous love that I want to love God and my husband and my family and my friends and strangers. And it’s with that love that I love you, whoever you are, wherever you are, however alone you’re feeling right now.

 

Wherever you find yourself on Valentine’s Day, know this:
You. Are. Loved.

 

Love in the Little Things February 12, 2013

Filed under: Love — Stephanie Rische @ 1:45 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Sometimes love is in the big things—gem-studded jewelry, exotic trips, big promises, grandiose gestures. But more often, as I was reminded the other day, it’s the little, everyday actions that string together to make up this thing we call love.

little things

 

It was a Friday, and I’d just met a big deadline at work, so when I got home, Daniel suggested we go out to dinner to celebrate. We decided to try a new Thai place to replace “our” Thai restaurant that bit the economic dust (you can read the sad story here). When our food arrived, Daniel surprised me by pulling something out of his bag.

 

“A plate?” I asked.

 

When I looked more closely, things started to make more sense. The “Your Special Day” plate!

 

When I was a kid, Mom had a special red plate she pulled out on significant occasions—not just on birthdays, but also on days we accomplished something worth celebrating. A piano recital. A satisfactory report card. A basketball win. Shortly after I moved out on my own, my sister made me a plate like it, and now Daniel has been swept along in the tradition too.

 

plate

 

But I certainly wasn’t expecting to have the plate show up in the middle of Tusk Thai restaurant. It was a little thing, perhaps, but it meant something big to me.

 

The next day I got a card in the mail—an expected burst of yellow amid the junk mail and bills. What’s this? I wondered. Christmas is over, it’s not my birthday…

 

I tore open the envelope to find a card from my friend Sarah that said, “Thanks for being you. I’m looking forward to another year of being your friend.” A card for no reason at all, just to tell me I meant something to her. It was a series of little things, really…she picked out just the right card, she wrote words with real pen and ink, she put a stamp in the corner so it would make its way to my mailbox. Little things; big love.

 

How often am I looking to God for grand gestures to prove his love—the impossible miracle, the big answer to prayer, the parting of a proverbial sea? And to be certain, God does offer those large-scale proofs of love at times. But he also gives us undeniable bread-crumb trails of his love through the smaller things too. A ray of sunshine bursting through the cloudy sky. The provision of daily bread. The innocent laughter of a child. An unlikely burst of joy that surges despite all evidence to the contrary.

 

May my eyes ever be open to those little acts of love. Because who knows—maybe those little things are big things after all.

 

***

Epilogue: Daniel and I noticed throughout dinner that we seemed to be getting more attention than the other customers. The waiter was extra friendly, and the owner kept walking by our table—not saying anything, but obviously observing us. When we’d finished our meals and were waiting for the check, we were surprised to see the waiter coming out with a plate of sumptuous coconut custard. I looked over my shoulder, wondering if this sweet treat was missing its intended mark. But no, the waiter’s eyes landed straight on me, eagerly awaiting my reaction.

 

I fumbled out something appreciative, but I was baffled.

 

“It’s not my birthday!” I whispered to Daniel after the waiter left. And then it hit me. Of course! The plate. He must have assumed “Your Special Day” meant birthday. Hence the free dessert.

 

custard

 

I certainly wasn’t going to complain. As I looked at the last bite of custard, which Daniel had saved for me, as usual, it felt for all the world like another little piece of love, right there on my plate.

 

Mishearing God February 8, 2013

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

Have you ever felt like you heard something so clearly, but the message must have gotten garbled somehow along the way?

 

I have voice recognition software at work that translates phone messages into text, but let’s just say the technology still has a ways to go. Case in point: yesterday it translated “Stephanie” as “Brian” and interpreted “just going to” as “jazz orchestra.”

 

It’s rather entertaining when communication breakdowns are of the lighthearted, technical variety. But when it comes to spiritual messages, the stakes are a bit higher.

 

A while ago I felt prompted to buy a Bible, and not just any Bible—one of those big, classic, leather-bound numbers. I didn’t know why or who it was for, but the message was undeniable: Buy this Bible. And so, despite feeling rather foolish, I made the purchase, wondering when I’d get my next set of instructions.

 

bible

 

Not long after, my husband and I were packing for a nine-hour train ride to visit his family. We were carrying everything on with us, and our bags were stuffed. Just as I was wrestling with the zipper on my bloated carry-on, another prompting came out of nowhere: Take the Bible with you.

 

I was pretty sure I’d misunderstood, and I haggled with God over it. Surely he didn’t mean I’d have to take it with me on the train! Couldn’t I compromise and take a smaller Bible, one that wouldn’t cause permanent spinal damage? Or once I met the person I was supposed to give the Bible to, couldn’t I just write down their address and mail it to them? But the directions felt unambiguous, so I obliged.

 

All through the trip my eyes were peeled, searching for the person in need of a Bible. Maybe it would be someone sitting in the aisle across from us or a fellow passenger we met in the dining car. Maybe it would be one of Daniel’s relatives or his parents’ neighbors. Perhaps it would be a stranger we encountered at some point on the trip. As silly as I felt, I was eager to see what God would do, to have a testimony about how I’d carried that Bible around and then God had led me to just the right person at the precise moment.

 

It never happened.

 

I lugged that big Bible home again—all nine hours—and never got another nudge about what to do with it. Did I miss the person I was supposed to give it to? I wondered as our train pulled into the station. Or did I miss the instructions in the first place?

 

I’ve been pondering this mystery ever since—not just the Bible carry-on, but other times I’ve apparently misheard God over the course of my faith journey, times that have left more significant damage than a sore back. What am I supposed to make of those times I’ve stepped out in faith and everything dead-ended unceremoniously…or blew up in my face?

 

Then I came across this story, taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book These Strange Ashes:

 

elliot

 

One day Jesus said to his disciples: “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” He didn’t give any explanation.

 

So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn’t give any regulation for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket.

 

Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey.

 

About noontime Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, “Now it’s time for lunch.”

 

In a few seconds, Peter’s lunch was over. When lunch was done Jesus told them to stand up.

 

He said again, “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.”

 

This time Peter said, “Aha! Now I get it!” So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back and it was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, “I can’t wait for supper.”

 

Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up.

 

Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, “Now everyone throw your stones into the water.” They did.

 

Then he said, “Follow Me,” and began to walk.

 

Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded.

 

Jesus sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?”

 

The story got me to wondering: maybe it wasn’t that I’d misheard after all. Maybe the truth is that obedience is a reward in itself. Maybe I was supposed to carry this load for Jesus, even if I never understand why. Just because he asked me to.

 

What if sometimes God just wants to see if I’m willing to say yes?

 

What burden are you carrying right now?

What would it look like to be obedient, even when you don’t know why you have to carry such a heavy load?

 peter2

 

 

Book of the Month Club: Announcing February’s Selection February 5, 2013

First of all, congratulations to Diane for winning the free book for January’s book discussion! (You can check out our lively conversation about twins and ghosts and mistaken identities here.}

 

And the book of the month for February is…The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller!

Meaning-of-Marriage1

 

I’ve already started the book (thanks to Nancy and Kim for the Christmas present), and I’ve been highlighting so profusely that by now the white part is starting to stand out.

 

Here’s the blurb about this book:

Modern culture would have you believe that everyone has a soul mate; that romance is the most important part of a successful marriage; that marriage does not mean till death do us part, but merely for as long as my needs are being met; and that when serious differences arise, divorce is the best solution.

According to the Bible, all of these modern-day assumptions miss what marriage is all about. In The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller, along with Kathy, his wife of thirty-six years, draws a profound portrait of marriage from the pages of Scripture that neither idealizes nor rejects the institution but points us back to the relationship between God and man. The result is a vision for marriage that is refreshingly frank and unsentimental, yet hopeful and beautiful. This book is for anyone from singles, to couples considering marriage, to those who have been married recently or for a long time.

 

If you’d like to hear more, check out the interview of the authors sharing about the book here.

 kellers

 

We’ll be discussing the book at the end of February (and again, there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter). Please join us!

 

 

Book of the Month Club: The Thirteenth Tale February 1, 2013

Filed under: Book Club — Stephanie Rische @ 8:20 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

13th tale

Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club (which I introduced here). January’s selection was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

 

Here’s how it works: I’m going to throw out some discussion topics, and you can feel free to post your comments—about these topics or other things you want to talk about.

 

Discussion #1: Story vs. Truth

The initial letter Vida Winter sends to Margaret includes an interesting commentary about the power of story compared to the power of truth:

 

My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney?…When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie. (p. 5)

 

Meanwhile, Margaret agrees to be Vida Winter’s biographer only on the condition that Vida Winter tells her the truth. She even manages to squeeze a few verifiable facts out of the writer before she begins.

 

Over the course of the book, do you think Vida Winter’s stance on truth and story changes? Clearly, at the end of her life, the “plump comforts of a story” aren’t enough to soothe her. And Margaret seems to so lose herself in Vida Winter’s story that she no longer seems quite so consumed with the facts.

 

Which do you prefer: a story or the truth?

 

Discussion #2: Twins

One of the central themes of the book is twins. Vida Winter is haunted by twins who kept her outside their circle; Margaret is haunted by her twin who died as an infant—the sister whose absence still gapes. Do you think there’s a special twin connection?

 

Discussion #3: Margaret

What do you think of Margaret as a character? Is her story compelling, or is she just a vehicle for Vida Winter to tell her story?

 

I enjoyed having two stories—the parallels between Margaret’s and Vida’s lives add depth and mystery to the book. But I wished I could have gotten more about Margaret’s story. When Margaret protests that she doesn’t have a story, Vida Winter tells her, “Of course you have. Everybody has a story.” But while we get glimmers of Margaret’s story, it feels flat in the shadow of Vida’s narrative.

 

In an interview shortly after the book’s release, Diane Setterfield shared this comment about the early process of writing The Thirteenth Tale: “The biographer, Margaret, was very quiet and reserved and she was very difficult and withdrawn, I could tell she was hiding something from me, but I couldn’t tell what it was. I got very annoyed with the book and the characters, and didn’t do anything for a year. After that I took a deep breath and sat down with it again. I couldn’t leave it alone—I just felt these characters deserved to have their stories told.”

 

Diane

 

What do you think? Did she do justice to Margaret’s character?

 

Discussion #4: One Lingering Mystery

In a book full of twists and turns, we uncover yet another surprise when Emmeline’s identity is called into question near the end of the book. Vida Winter recounts the scene after she saved Emmeline from the fire:

 

I look at her face and cannot find my beloved in it.
“Emmeline?” I whisper. “Emmeline?”

She does not reply.

I feel my heart die. What have I done? Have I…? Is it possible that…?

I cannot bear to know.

I cannot bear not to know. (p. 379)

 

And so Vida Winter cares for her half-sister for the rest of her life, not knowing if it’s her beloved Emmeline or the deranged Adeline. What do you think? Was it Emmeline or Adeline? And what would it say about Vida Winter if it was the latter?

 

Wrap-Up

For more about the author, you can visit this page. I was astonished to find that this was Diane Setterfield’s first novel—her previous publications were all academic works about nineteenth and twentieth century French literature. Not bad for her first try.

 

I’d give The Thirteenth Tale 4.5 stars (out of 5).

4.5 stars

 

What rating would you give this book?

 

{Reminder: I will give away a free book to one randomly selected commenter!}