Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Sweatpant Friends April 30, 2013

Filed under: Friends — Stephanie Rische @ 12:48 pm
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I was given an unspeakable gift last weekend: the gift of sweatpant friends.


We women, we feel almost constant pressure to put forth our best self…to coordinate the outfit and gloss the lips and fix the hair and don the stylish (i.e., uncomfortable) shoes. All so we can look like we have it all together, that we ourselves are all together.


But last weekend eight of us girls who have been friends since the days of Jars of Clay and bad perms got together and spent a few days in the rarest of settings—a safe haven where we could be our unvarnished, un-makeup-ed, sweatpanted selves.



It’s been almost fifteen years since we were all in the same place together, and honestly I wasn’t sure how things would fall into place. Would it work to have eight women accustomed to having our own nests all together under the same roof? Would things get cliquey or competitive or catty? Would we still find common ground all these years later?


There were a thousand reasons not to do it—the cost, the travel arrangements, the logistics, the potential awkwardness. Not to mention the 14 collective children we have as a group, plus one on the way. Was it worth all the effort?


I credit our loyal, creative teacher-friend for setting the tone in the first place: You all don’t mind if I wear sweatpants all weekend, right?

And from that moment, the stage was set for things to be real, authentic, vulnerable. In a word: imperfect. Just like our cottage.



With its turquoise and canary-yellow walls, adorned with mismatched bits of Americana, the quirky rental felt like a metaphor in itself. The kitchen sloped down on one side; the wood floors let out contented groans every time we took a step. The gaps around the window frames and the door ushered howly gusts of wind and sand into the otherwise cozy living room.


But something about it felt just right. Community, after all, isn’t about creating something pristine, seamless, perfectly composed. The beauty of community comes when we bring together the mismatched pieces in a delightfully quirky collage. As the eight of us sat in our mismatched chairs, sipping hot chocolate and pouring out the past decade of our lives to one another, our words tumbled out much like our attire: real, raw, unpolished.



I know it’s unrealistic to live in beach-cottage world all the time, but still I wonder: How can I keep this sense of community even when my old friends are miles away? And how can I turn new friends and acquaintances into sweatpant friends?


I’m not quite sure, but I offer you the same challenge I pose to myself:


Reach out.

Take a risk.

Embrace the messiness of real friendship.

Find someone with whom you can ditch your makeup and your put-togetherness.



And by all means, if you don’t have a sweatpants-level friend, do whatever it takes to become one.


Friendship arises…when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”…It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision—it is then that friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.

—C. S. Lewis


The Floodwaters Are Up to My Neck April 26, 2013

Filed under: Grace — Stephanie Rische @ 12:18 pm
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A state of emergency was declared for my area last week after what can only be described as biblical levels of flooding. The wise among us sought higher ground; the wiser stayed home to bail out basements; the wisest started constructing an ark.


And me? I went to work.


You’d think I would have turned back when I saw all the cars stalled on the side of the road or when I encountered puddles the size of Lake Michigan. But no, I was determined to get to the office, even if it meant I’d have to swim there.



When I finally arrived, after countless detours and some heroic efforts on the part of my little car, I was dismayed to find the parking lot impassable. That would have been another prime opportunity to turn back, but I doggedly pressed on. After parking on an elevated side street, I grabbed my coffee and umbrella and traipsed through the wet slop in my heels.


Everything was going swimmingly, so to speak, until I got to the raging river I had to cross to make it to the entrance. I did my best to calculate the jump but failed to take into account the fact that the ground was roughly the consistency of maple syrup. As soon as I hit the other side, I heard it before I felt it: slurp! Sure enough, my entire foot, heel and all, had been sucked underground. I tried to steady myself, and slurp!—the other foot surrendered to the mud.


I finally got inside, tights dripping and shoes full of sludge. How was I going to make it through the day with sopping feet? That’s when my stroke of genius hit: The hand dryer! After twenty minutes of standing in the restroom on alternating feet, my shoes finally stopped making gurgling noises each time I took a step.


Then, just as I exited the restroom, I heard the announcement: “Our office will be closed today. Please leave now to ensure you will be able to get your car out.”


And so it was time to turn around and cross the temporary creek again.


I found the whole escapade entertaining since the damage for me was limited to my pride and a pair of tights. But as I started getting calls from friends and family and hearing news reports about the wreckage people had sustained, the gravity of the situation began to sink in.



And so it is with the personal floods we face—the loss of a job, the severing of a relationship, the chokehold of grief, the dailyness of life. The floodwaters creep higher and higher, and we feel certain they’re going to pull us under. And even worse, God seems to stand far off in the distance, sending no rescue boat our way.


The psalmist David knew firsthand how lonely that drowning sensation can feel. Here’s the prayer he offered in the midst of his own flood:


Save me, O God,

for the floodwaters are up to my neck.

Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;

I can’t find a foothold.

I am in deep water,

and the floods overwhelm me. . . .

Rescue me from the mud;

don’t let me sink any deeper!

Save me from those who hate me,

and pull me from these deep waters.

Don’t let the floods overwhelm me,

or the deep waters swallow me.

—Psalm 69:1-2, 15




Even if our floodwaters recede and the immediate crisis passes, it’s not over. There’s still the muddy aftermath to deal with—bailing out the basement, evaluating the damage, determining if anything can be salvaged, beginning the tedious cleanup process.

Sometimes it just feels like too much.


In those post-flood moments, we have a choice.

Will we give up and sink into the mire?

Or will trust that God will rescue us, even when no rescue is in sight?


Answer my prayers, O Lord,

for your unfailing love is wonderful.

Take care of me,

for your mercy is so plentiful.

—Psalm 69:16


If you find the floodwaters swirling around your neck today, take heart. God will take care of you; he will show you his unfailing love. And when you are stuck in the basement of life, dealing with the flood’s messy aftermath, may you discover his mercy among the ruins.



Saying Goodbye April 23, 2013

Filed under: Faith — Stephanie Rische @ 1:50 pm
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We weren’t made to say goodbye.


Goodbye always comes like a thief…unexpected, startling, jarring. And too soon. Always too soon.


Even when we know it’s coming, there’s no real way to be prepared.


I think of my friend Sarah, whose dad is too young to have cancer. She was just there for Christmas, and he was his usual cheerful self, playing endless games of pretend with his grandkids, fixing things around the house, eating his trademark bologna sandwich. She’s not ready to say



I think of the parents in Newtown who sent their children off to school one December morning, with no way of knowing it would be the last hug, the last wave, the last goodbye.


I think of the city of Boston, all abuzz with the spirit of friendly competition earlier last week, never dreaming it would be a day for goodbyes.


I’m not typically someone who shirks reality, but lately I find myself flipping channels when the news comes on, skipping over the bad news stories, closing my ears to yet another tale of premature goodbyes.


It isn’t supposed to be this way. We weren’t made for goodbyes.



Over Easter my extended family made a road trip out east to see my brother and his family—a rare treat for all of us to be happily sardined in one place. When it was time to leave, we went through the long, ceremonial goodbyes, offering hugs and inside jokes and recaps of the trip and promises to get together again soon.


Then it came time for my mom to say goodbye to four-year-old Lyla, her only granddaughter. Mom stretched out her arms and  wrapped the girl, pajamas and all, in one of those all-encompassing hugs only a grandma can pull off. I didn’t have to look at her face to know she was crying.


Lyla pulled back and looked intently into her grandma’s and lyla1


“Grandma,” she said, her tone somber, grown-up. “I can make you cry.”


“You sure can!” My mom smiled at Lyla through her tears.


Without missing a beat, Lyla delivered her line: “Knock-knock.”


Mom looked surprised but played along. “Who’s there?”


“Boo.” A smug grin crept onto Lyla’s face.


“Boo who?”


With that, Lyla threw her arms around Grandma and giggled. The laughter was infectious, and before long, all of us were giggling like little girls.


It felt biblical, in a way. Tears into laughter. Mourning into joy.


Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
—Psalm 30:5


I have no words to make sense of senseless tragedy or to explain when people have to say goodbye before their time.

mom and lyla2

But I do know that we were made for a different world. A world where there’s no crying or death or sorrow or pain. A world where, overnight, weeping morphs into joy.


He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.

–Revelation 21:4


Come, Lord Jesus.


Why love if losing hurts so much? We love to know that we are not alone.
—C. S. Lewis


Do One Thing April 16, 2013

wbez4Last weekend Daniel and I volunteered to help man the booth for His Wheels International at WBEZ’s sixth annual Global Activism Expo.


Seizing a few moments of downtime, I walked around the huge convention room and scoped out almost 100 organizations that are committed to assisting developing countries around the world—from Congo to Haiti to Afghanistan.


As I wove my way through the booths, I heard story after heartbreaking story of poverty and malnourishment, of mothers who died from simple birthing complications, of children whose lives were cut short because they lacked clean water, of people who hiked for days to reach the nearest hospital, with no guarantee that once they got there they’d get the care they needed.


I was barely halfway around the room before I found myself going into overload mode. So many needs. So many good causes. So many worthy organizations. Where to begin?


After lunch, as I made my way through the room a second time, I was struck by something I hadn’t noticed the first time around. The handmade wares that were being sold, crafted by individuals from various poverty-stricken areas, all had a common thread: resourcefulness.


I saw…

  • purses made by Cambodian women out of leftover fish nets
  • medical supplies donated by hospitals that otherwise would dump them into landfills
  • solar-powered ovens fueled by the sun and “paper charcoal” (basically bricks of recycled newspaper)
  • scarves made from material scraps, woven together in beautiful rainbows of color


These people didn’t have much, but they were creative with what they had in excess.


It struck me that although I’m just an average person in an average community, these artisans would think I’m sitting on a goldmine. How many resources do I have right under my nose that I don’t even consider resources, if I notice them at all?


When I look through the eyes of resourcefulness, though, I can see that I’ve been given much by a much-giving God. And he charges me to share the much I have.


When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

—Luke 12:48


That sounded good, but as I looked around the room, I felt kind of panicky. Where, oh where, to begin? Then this thought hit me with all the force of a dodgeball to the gut: I don’t have to do everything, but I can do one thing.


So perhaps the place for me to begin is the same place as these whose handiwork I was admiring: What do I have in excess? wbez2


And now I pose the same question to you: What has God given generously to you? An excess of time? Creative ideas? Business savvy? Technical skills? Money? Extra rooms in your house? Love?


Don’t try to do everything. But do one thing.


{Not sure where to start? Here are some organizations my husband and I support that you might want to check out.}

Casa Viva

Medical Teams International


Women at Risk

World Vision

His Wheels International


Friday Favorites April 12, 2013

For grammar geeks with a sweet tooth:
I couldn’t help but crack up about these cakes gone grammatically wrong: Cake Wrecks



For introverts (and those who love them):

Donald Miller shares these practical tips for living with and loving introverts: How to Get along with an Introvert


For word nerds:
If you are a word nerd like me, you will deliciate in these obsolete words. Let’s bring them back!
Obsolete Words That Should Make a Comeback



For anyone weary of the “perfect life syndrome”:
Shauna Niequist offers this insightful perspective about our tendency to compare our own real life with everyone else’s peak moments: Instagram’s Envy Effect


For anyone who knows someone who’s ill:
Here’s some practical advice about how to avoid sticking your foot in your mouth when someone you know is sick: How Not to Say the Wrong Thing


Sweet Sundays, Part 3 April 9, 2013

For the first time this Easter, it struck me just how many key events of the Christian faith are crammed in the span of a single week.


Holy Week starts with a bang on Palm Sunday, replete with a triumphal entry and jubilant hosannas. The next few days are filled with action—tables are turned, miracles are witnessed, final teachings are delivered.


Then comes Maundy Thursday in all its drama…a foot washing, a supper steeped in meaning, a wrenching betrayal, prayers of agony in a garden.


Close on its heels is Good Friday, with the dark march toward Golgotha, nails pounded into flesh, the rending of a curtain.


Then, after a whirlwind of a week, Saturday comes. And with it…silence.


At the close of Salvation Week, as with Creation Week, God rested.


It is finished.


No more striving.

No more scurrying.

No more trying.

It is finished.


Even in the busiest week of the church calendar, Jesus took a day of rest.



There was nothing more he could do to add to the completed work of grace on that silent Saturday. So I wonder…what kind of audacity leads me to think there’s more I must do?


Let us rest in the completeness of that perfect day of rest.


It is finished.


{For more on my Sabbath musings, see this post and this post.}


April Book of the Month Club April 5, 2013

Congratulations to Jolyn, who won the free book giveaway for March!


And now, the book of the month for April…The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.


Here’s the description of the book from the author’s website:

Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment—a year of biblical womanhood.


Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year. Pursuing a different virtue each month, Evans learns the hard way that her quest for biblical womanhood requires more than a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4).​


rachel2It means growing out her hair, making her own clothes, covering her head, obeying her husband, rising before dawn, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church, and even camping out in the front yard during her period. With just the right mixture of humor and insight, compassion and incredulity, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an exercise in scriptural exploration and spiritual contemplation.


What does God truly expect of women, and is there really a prescription for biblical womanhood? Come along with Evans as she looks for answers in the rich heritage of biblical heroines, models of grace, and all-around women of valor.


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


March Book Club: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake April 2, 2013

Thanks for joining our discussion about The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. I’ll throw out some topics for discussion, and you can put your comments about these or other topics in the comments section.bender1


Discussion #1: Taste and Emotion

I was intrigued by the connection between taste and emotions. Although I don’t have Rose’s gift for tasting what people are feeling, I do think food can be tightly intertwined with emotion. When I bite into Mom’s cinnamon-swirl French toast, washed down with a sip of her coffee, I taste the nostalgic warmth of countless Sunday brunches around her kitchen table. When I taste my sister Meghan’s cooking, I find myself ready for adventure, my palette eagerly anticipating whatever concoction of spices she has woven into the recipe this time. The taste of a ripe raspberry inevitably transports me to Grandpa’s garden, and I can practically feel the hot desert sun on my back as the memories of childhood summers rush into my mouth.

french toast

What did you think about Rose’s odd talent? What foods evoke specific emotions for you?


Discussion #2: Wacky Family

Rose Edelstein’s family certainly has some dysfunctional relationships—and distinct quirks (a hospital-phobic father; a trapped, immature mother; a hermit-like, genius brother; and Rose herself, whose “special talent” for tasting feelings threatens to drive her to the brink. I read an article that compared the family to the Glass family in J. D. Salinger’s short stories, and that struck me as just about right.

Though not all the characters are necessarily likable, I found them empathetic and well written, not to mention deliciously quirky. What did you think of the characters? Did you have a favorite?


Discussion #3: Do You Buy It?

The story has some fantastical elements to it that ask readers to suspend belief. Rose’s odd talent is revealed early in the story; her brother Joseph’s talent is revealed fairly late in the book, although we are given clues throughout the story that something out of the ordinary is happening. For some reason I was ready to jump on board with Rose’s ability to taste feelings, but the author just didn’t get me to go along with Joseph’s chair-morphing abilities.

How about you? Did you find the characters’ fantastical elements believable? And on a related note, where do you think Joseph goes when he disappears? Does he actually become part of the furniture? Does he time travel? Is he suspended in some kind of spatial limbo?


Discussion #4: Fear of Giftedness

Rose viewed her special talent with alternating panic and annoyance; Joseph kept his odd ability a secret to the world; and their father was so paralyzed by his potential hospital-related gift that he avoided hospitals altogether. Perhaps these characters were worried other people wouldn’t understand, or perhaps they were simply afraid of their own powers. Although the book doesn’t offer much in the way of tidy resolutions, we get the idea that Rose’s moment of redemption comes when she is able to share her gift at the wine-tasting bar after years of keeping it locked away.

Do you (or people you know) keep your greatest talents a secret? What do you think accounts for our tendency to do that?


Discussion #5: Absentee Punctuation

I listened to this book on audio, so I didn’t know until a friend told me that there are no quotation marks used to indicate dialogue! I’m not sure this grammar nerd could have handled that for a whole book.

Did that bother you? Why do you think the author chose to go that route?



I would give this book 3.5 stars. I found the premise intriguing, but the delivery turned out to be darker and more oddball than I prefer. Still, I’m glad I read it.

35 stars

How many stars would you give the book?


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