Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Women of Valor March 26, 2013

I don’t know about you, but every time I read Proverbs 31, I feel tired. Maybe a little incredulous too (Seriously? This woman wakes up early, stays up late, weaves blankets, cooks, works outside the home, helps the needy, makes savvy business deals, wears a purple dress she made herself, and then probably posts it all on Pinterest? Who is this woman?).

 

Mostly, though, I just feel weary. And then I skip over to the next book in the Bible (Ecclesiastes) to remind myself that everything is meaningless anyway.

 

But I’m currently reading The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, and she has given me a new perspective on the Proverbs 31 woman.

rachel1

Apparently this chapter was written as an acrostic poem, intended as an ode to honor women, not a bunch of to-dos. In Jewish culture, this wasn’t a checklist for women to strive for; instead, men praised women with the phrase “Eshet Chayil” (“Woman of Valor”), taken from the first line of the poem.

 

In other words, this depiction isn’t intended to describe one woman, and it certainly isn’t meant to capture a single day of her life. Rather, it’s a shout-out to all women.

So today I want to take a moment to acknowledge all of you women of valor out there. I see you, and I honor you.

 

You give of yourself—your talents, your time, your tears—and usually do it without getting much thanks. Eshet Chayil!

 

You wipe bottoms and blow noses and get up in the middle of the night. Eshet Chayil!

 

You work inside your home and outside your home, in your career and in your kitchen and in your relationships, and my guess is that you’re tired. Eshet Chayil!

 

You are fierce in your love, zealous in your protection, tenacious in your prayers. Eshet Chayil!

 

You hug well, you comfort well, you bring life and goodness and joy. Eshet Chayil!

mom and me

You don’t know it, but you shine. So here’s to you, you Woman of Valor! Eshet Chayil!

 

***

P.S. A special Eshet Chayil to my mom, Cindy, who just celebrated her birthday. Mom, you showed me when to stand up for myself and when to stay on my knees. You showed me how to how to make homemade snickerdoodle cookies and when to rip open a box of Keeblers. You taught me that sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. You showed me how to follow through, how to clean an oven, how to knit a family together, how to giggle on waterslides, and how to fall in love with God’s Word. No woman fulfills the entire Proverbs 31 picture, but I have to say that you come pretty close. Happy Birthday, Mom of Valor!

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Friday Favorites March 22, 2013

For grammar geeks…fri1

I do love me some punctuation. Here are some new marks for those situations when a semicolon just isn’t enough: Obscure Punctuation Marks That Should Really Get More Play

 

For sports fans…

I’ve seen a lot of fine moments in basketball, but this is most heartwarming thing I’ve ever seen happen on the floor of a gymnasium: When Both Teams Win

 fri2

 

For book lovers…

This memoir by Melanie Shankle will make you laugh and cry: Sparkly Green Earrings

 

For tired moms…

This is for all my friends who do heroic mom-things day after day: Burnout Is a Thing

 

For folk music/bluegrass fans…fri3

I recently rediscovered this album, and I’ve been listening to the song “Still” on constant repeat: Marty Feldhake’s Fences and Fields

 

For anyone who loves someone with special needs: This article by Amy Julia Becker is a heartwarming reminder that all people are stamped with the image of God—a fitting way to acknowledge Down Syndrome Awareness Day: Missing Out on Beautiful

 

For anyone who is looking for a miracle…

This is a beautifully written story about how miracles tend to come in unexpected packages:

A Tuesday Kind of Miracle

 

God as a Runner March 19, 2013

Filed under: Grace — Stephanie Rische @ 9:00 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

One of the highlights of my week occurs at 9:02 each Sunday morning. That’s the moment five-year-old Grace gets to church, and before she even gets her coat off, she comes barreling down the aisle to throw her arms around Daniel and me. She squeals with delight the moment she spots us (most likely because she knows Daniel has some antic up his sleeve to make her laugh), and then she’s heading toward us in an all-out sprint, pink dress flying behind her.

 

There is something breathtaking about the love of a child—unchecked, unbridled, unselfconscious as it is. At five, Grace doesn’t know to be jaded or cynical; she’s never had her heart broken; she doesn’t love as a means to an end. She just extends loves with the openhearted generosity of a child.

grace cropped

“You know, I feel bad sometimes that Grace shows us so much love,” Daniel told me one Sunday as we headed home from church.

 

I shot him a sideways glance, utterly befuddled. “What?

 

“Well, it’s just that we haven’t done anything to deserve her love.”

 

My initial thought was to list off all of Daniel’s qualities that endear him to every child he meets—his goofy sense of humor, his knack for asking good questions, his way of making people feel special and dignifying their feelings. But then it hit me: ultimately he’s right. We don’t deserve that kind of love.

 

Eventually a smile crept across my face. “I guess she’s pretty well named, huh?”

 

God’s grace in the form of a sprinting five-year-old.

 

***

The Bible depicts God with a number of metaphors that speak to his reverence and majesty: he is a just judge, a consuming fire, a sovereign King. But what a shock to see the one true God—whose holiness can’t be contained within the walls of even the most extravagant Temple—pictured as a father who loves his wayward child so much he literally runs to him.

 

While [his son] was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.

—Luke 15:20

 

That image of a father running to a prodigal would be stunning enough on its own (see more in this post). But given the cultural context Jesus was speaking into, it’s even more breathtaking. As one Bible commentator puts it, the father’s action “breaks all Middle Eastern protocol; no father would greet a rebellious son this way.” It would have been degrading to his position, a blow to his pride, yet the father “drapes himself on his son’s neck,” as the Greek text is literally rendered. In other words, God is willing to make a fool of himself to show us his love.

 

Allow yourself to picture it now: our God as a runner.

 

He is running toward you, even now.

 

Will you let him throw his arms around you—those everlasting arms of grace?

 

What Do You Want? March 12, 2013

Filed under: Faith,Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 8:18 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

longing1It’s the kind of question I might expect at the McDonald’s drive-through, but not from God himself:

 

What do you want?

 

According to Scripture, however, God is quoted as saying exactly that—once in the Old Testament and in one scene in the New Testament.

 

When Solomon became king, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and asked him a single question:

“What do you want?”

—1 Kings 3:5

 

When Jesus met a blind man begging along on the road, he posed the same question, verbatim:

“What do you want?”

—Mark 10:51

 

It’s intriguing that an omniscient God would ask the question at all—surely he knows the hearts of all people and doesn’t need to ask. And in the blind man’s case, wasn’t the need pretty obvious?

 

Our deepest longing—that one thing we desire above all else—exposes who we really are. And that kind of soul-nakedness is downright scary.

 

But perhaps that’s the very reason God wants us to name it, to ask for it. There’s something about saying the request out loud that makes it realer in our hearts. There’s something about forming our desire into words and tasting it on our tongues that brings it to life.

 

In other words, maybe the request isn’t for God’s sake but for our own.

 

What about you? If God appeared to you and you could ask him for one thing—just one thing—what would you ask him for? Wisdom? Vision? Healing? Wholeness? Would you ask him to fill a void in your life? Or to restore something that was lost?

longing2

What is it that you want more than anything else?

 

There’s no guarantee God will give you that thing you ask for. But I can promise you this: God delights in hearing your deepest, nakedest requests. For it’s often in that vulnerable space that we get something more than we bargained for: we get God himself.

 

God, of thy goodness, give me Thyself;
for Thou art enough for me,
and I can ask for nothing less
that can be full honor to Thee.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever shall I be in want,
for only in Thee have I all.
―Julian of Norwich

 

 

Temptation in the Form of a Giant Cookie March 8, 2013

Filed under: Grace — Stephanie Rische @ 8:32 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

piratesI learned a valuable lesson about temptation this week…from a four-year-old, no less.

 

My brother and sister-in-law were having a few families over for a party, and Lyla, being the little social planner she is, had a vision for the party décor that afternoon. And it did not involve the pirate ship. You see, Mom and Dad had decided to put the play ship in the basement so all the kids could play in it during the party, but Lyla didn’t think it would quite jibe with the vision she had for the basement. (She’s really four. I kid you not.)

 

And when that girl gets an idea in her head, you can be assured she’ll put up a Captain Hook-worthy battle to try to get her way. Sure enough, she argued with Mom and Dad, landing her promptly in her bedroom to take a rest and think about it.

 

When it was time to get up, she said to my brother, “Daddy, during rest time I told myself, Think, think, think! And then I decided it was a bad choice to talk back about the pirate ship.”

 

After my brother picked his jaw up off the floor, he and Lyla made their way downstairs to find just the right spot for the pirate ship. He was pleasantly surprised that more was sinking in to this strong-willed girl’s heart than he’d realized.

 

But.

 

The thing about four-year-olds is that they remind us, not so gently, of our humanity.

 

Just a few hours after my niece’s epiphanic moment, my brother noticed that the basement was just a little too quiet, so he went downstairs to check on Lyla and her two-year-old brother. He arrived just in time to see the two of them scampering down from the tall chair Lyla had dragged across the basement floor. Then he looked up on the counter and saw the evidence.

 

The giant chocolate chip cookie my sister-in-law had made for the party had two sets of little fingerprints smeared all over it…not to mention some undeniable lick marks. (No doubt they thought they’d get away with it since they hadn’t taken a bite, after all…)

cookie

I couldn’t help but laugh (one of the perks of being the non-parental figure), but it wasn’t long before I started pondering how much Lyla sounded like me when it comes to dealing with temptation. How is it that in one situation I can tell myself, Think, think, think and overcome a bad choice, only to cave on something else just moments later, having apparently forgotten everything I’d just learned? And who do I think I’m fooling anyway, assuming God will never notice my fingerprints smeared all over a spot I had no business being in the first place?

 

If the Bible is any indication, Lyla and I aren’t alone in this. The apostle Paul puts it this way:

 

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. . . . And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

—Romans 7:15-19

 

Thankfully there is grace the likes of Paul, who wants to do right but can’t.

 

There is grace for the likes of me, even as I take two steps forward and one step back.

 

And yes, there is grace for the likes of strong-willed toddlers. Even those of the cookie-licking variety.

 

Book of the Month Club: March March 6, 2013

First of all, congratulations to Christy for winning the free book for February’s book discussion! (You can check out our conversation here.)

 

And the book of the month for March is…The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.bender1

 

I have to confess that I was drawn to the book for one reason: the rockstar title. (The slice of cake on the cover didn’t hurt either.)

 

Here’s the publisher’s description of this novel:

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice. To her horror, she finds that her cheerful mother tastes of despair. Soon, she’s privy to the secret knowledge that most families keep hidden: her father’s detachment, her mother’s transgression, her brother’s increasing retreat from the world. But there are some family secrets that even her cursed taste buds can’t discern.

 

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

 

 

February Book of the Month Club: The Meaning of Marriage March 1, 2013

Meaning-of-Marriage1Thanks to everyone who joined our book of the month club for February! Our selection was The Meaning of Marriage, which I introduced here.

 

Here’s how it works: I’ll bring up a few discussion topics, and I’d love to hear your reactions! You can put your thoughts about these topics (or others you’d like to talk about) in the comment section.

 

Discussion #1: The Purpose of Marriage

I found the Kellers’ perspective on marriage countercultural and refreshing. Marriage is not, they claim, about making us happy. It’s about making us more into the people God intended us to be.

 

What, then, is marriage for? It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us. (page 120)

 

Within this Christian vision for marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that.” (page 121)

 

What do you think the purpose of marriage is? In what ways have you seen marriage transform you or someone you know into your “future glory-self”?

 

Discussion #2: Marriage as a picture of the gospel

One of my favorite themes in the book is that marriage, at its core, is a reflection of the gospel. Taken from that perspective, the hardest seasons in a marriage become purposeful, and the good parts become infused with meaning.

When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. (page 95)

 

Marriage has the power of truth, the ability to reveal to you who you really are, with all your flaws. How wonderful that it also has the “power of love”—an unmatched power to affirm you and heal you of the deepest wounds and hurts of your life. (page 146)

 

To be truly known and truly loved—this is grace. How have you seen marriage as a picture of the gospel in your life or in the lives of those you know?

 

Discussion #3: Submission

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the book isn’t prescriptive about what submission should look like in individual marriages. I also appreciated that it rises above the usual skirmishes about surface-level submission and digs deeper into the theology behind it.

 

I especially resonated with the analogy of the marriage relationship as a reflection of the Trinity. Ideally, God intended marriage to be an invitation for “male and female…to mirror and reflect the ‘dance’ of the Trinity” (page 176). Put in that perspective, submission gets taken out of the context of power and put into the context of choice. Kathy puts it this way:

 

Jesus’s willing acceptance of this role was wholly voluntary, a gift to his Father. I discovered here that my submission in marriage was a gift I offered, not a duty coerced from me. (page 175)

 

What do you think of the idea that submission is a reflection of the interaction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? What do you think the authors get right in their exploration of submission, and what would you take issue with?

 

Discussion #4: Singleness

I was glad to see that this book includes a chapter on singleness since it’s valuable for all of us to have a solid theology of marriage, whether we’re married or not. But I have to say I was disappointed that single people seemed to be categorically lumped into two camps: those who idolize marriage and those who are terrified of it.

 

I couldn’t help but feel for the healthy, well-balanced people I know who aren’t married but would like to be. They aren’t under the illusion that marriage will be perfect or will solve all their problems, nor are they running away from marriage. Certainly some people fall into those categories, but I found myself bristling on behalf of anyone who reads this and feels like their singleness is being pushed back on them as their own fault.

 

What do you think? Did this chapter present an accurate picture of singleness in our culture?

 

Overall Thoughts

Not including the chapter on singleness, I would give this book five stars. I appreciated that it is both theological and practical, that it casts a sweeping vision for marriage yet is still rooted in the real world. I’d recommend it to everyone I know who is married or is considering marriage.

5 stars

How many stars would you give this book?

 

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