Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Book of the Month Discussion: Gone Girl May 31, 2013

Filed under: Book Club — Stephanie Rische @ 11:55 am
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Discussion #1: UnputdownableGG1

The blurb on the inside flap of the book says it’s “unputdownable.” When I first read that description, I thought it sounded a bit presumptuous (not to mention that it’s a made-up word), but once I got about halfway in, I recanted my initial reaction. Because that’s precisely the word for it—I consistently stayed up way too late reading this book.


I was a little surprised I liked this book since suspense isn’t my typical genre and I didn’t like any of the characters. But the plot and pacing were killer (sorry, bad pun), and the author uncovered layer after layer of the story in such a gripping way that I couldn’t help but come back for more, gory-accident style.


Did Gone Girl reel you in? Would you read other books by this author?


Discussion #2: She Said

The author is masterful in the way she reveals Amy’s personality. I started out feeling sorry for Amy, and then as the novel unfolded, I marveled as the depth of her insanity was revealed. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into Amy’s mind, and although she is so far over the edge, I couldn’t help but think how in many ways she’s merely an extreme representation of our own neuroses.


What do you think made Amy the way she was? Was she born a sociopath, or did circumstances make her that way (e.g., the pressure from her parents and the world to always be “Amazing Amy”)?


Discussion #3: He Said

As we find out more about Amy’s devious, well-calculated plans, it becomes clear that she is certifiably nuts. (Seriously? She saved her own vomit?) But as the novel comes to a close, we discover that Nick may be just as crazy in his way. He chooses to live in the same house with her and sleep in the same bed, all the while knowing one false move on his part will have disastrous consequences.


In a way, it seems that Nick doesn’t know who he is without Amy:

“Amy was toxic, yet I couldn’t imagine a world without her entirely. Who would I be with Amy just gone? There were no options that interested me anymore.” (p. 397)


Why do you think Nick stayed? And who was crazier: Amy or Nick?


Discussion #4: No Happy Ending

Not that I was expecting happily-ever-after for a book like this, but I have to admit that I was hoping for a little more justice…or at the very least, closure. I had a small moment of satisfaction when Nick wrote his book, but once again, Amy pulls a trump card when she announces she’s pregnant.


Nick has some moments where he’s about to crack and wants to kill her, but ultimately he decides that wouldn’t have been adequate. Here’s how he imagines justice for Amy:

“Not kill her but stop her. Put her in one of her boxes.” (p. 397)


What did you think of the ending? How long do you think Nick and Amy’s tenuous arrangement (that he has to be the perfect husband) is going to work? In your mind, what would have been justice for Amy?


Discussion #5: The Author

After finishing the book, I had to wonder: what kind of person could write a book like this and capture these disturbed characters so convincingly? I read a little bit about Gillian Flynn on her author site, and she looks like a perfectly lovely, well-adjusted adult. She does admit, however, that she had a bit of a devious streak as a child:


I was not a nice little girl. My favorite summertime hobby was stunning ants and feeding them to spiders. My preferred indoor diversion was a game called Mean Aunt Rosie, in which I pretended to be a witchy caregiver and my cousins tried to escape me.



I would give this book four stars. It was dark and disturbing and some of the language was hard to take, but it was a compelling read. I recommend it for those who are not faint of heart! (And maybe don’t read it right before bedtime.)


4 stars


How would you rate this book?


Anxiety in High Gear May 29, 2013

Filed under: Faith — Stephanie Rische @ 12:01 pm
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I have a rather embarrassing confession to make: when I was single, I had the subconscious notion that if I got married, all my anxieties would magically disappear. Ridiculous, I know. It turns out I’m the same Anxious Annie with a ring that I was without one. Now I just have another target to worry about.


One year ago, over Memorial Day weekend, my worrywart tendencies showed up in full force, and before it was all over, things got downright ugly.


My husband, Daniel, is an avid cyclist, and anytime he sees a long stretch of pavement without cars on it, he practically starts salivating. We went out of town for the weekend, and he got the notion to ride his bicycle home. All 67 miles. As if that weren’t cause enough for worry, he didn’t have a map, it was 98 degrees with the heat index, and he was going straight into a 20-mile-an-hour headwind.


Sixty-seven miles. Four and a half hours. That’s a long while to worry.

dwr bike


Then our next-door neighbor called and said our garage door was wide open. Had we closed it before we left? I thought so, but I couldn’t be sure. The likely scenario was that we’d inadvertently left it open, not that some conniving thief had wrangled his way in and left the door open as some kind of twisted signature. But who ever said worry is rational?


With my anxiety in high gear already, that was all it took to put me over the edge. As I drove the 67 miles home, I created multiple disaster scenarios in my head: Daniel was on an ambulance somewhere in Wisconsin, being pumped with liquids as they tried to save him from dehydration. Or maybe he’d gotten a flat tire and hitched a ride with the very same creepy guy who had broken into our house. Or most likely the thief was still camping out behind the couch in our living room, biding his time so he could jump me the moment I walked in the door.


Fortunately my husband is a patient man, and he let me cry it out over the phone while my incoherent fears came tumbling out.


When I finished blubbering, he said, “What time will you get home? I’ll call you back, and I’ll walk you in.”


When I hung up, I had a flash of realization: I’d just spent 40-some miles stewing and worrying and generally getting my panties in a bunch, but I hadn’t so much as whispered a prayer. How different would the trip home have been if I’d confessed my worry to God and asked him to stand guard over Daniel’s bicycle tires instead of going around and around on my gerbil wheel of worry?


Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

—Luke 12:25-26


True to his word, Daniel called and walked me in when I arrived home. It turned out there was no crime scene, no trace of a sneaky garage thief. And several hours later Daniel arrived home in one piece, requiring no detours to the hospital.


God has promised to hold our hand as we go through whatever scary doors before us. But first we have to open our hand and let go of the worries we’re clinging to so tightly. Only then can he grab our hand in his and walk us in.


I hold you by your right hand—

I, the Lord your God.

And I say to you,

“Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.”

—Isaiah 41:13



This year Daniel made the same trek over Memorial Day weekend—all 67 miles again—only this time instead of scorching heat, there were threatening rainclouds. I still have a long way to go in the worrywart department, but this time I pictured God beside me, hanging on to my right hand as I drove. (Don’t worry, I kept the other hand on the wheel, just in case.)


daniel and steph


A Letter to My Sister on Her 28th Birthday May 24, 2013

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 11:44 am
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They were going to name you Fart-Dart.


We had a family meeting to discuss names before you were born, and Dad and Kyle formed an alliance, claiming that if you were a boy, Fart-Dart it would be. My indignant protests and sisterly outrage fell on deaf ears. They were too busy trying to figure out a middle name that would go well with Fart-Dart.


At seven, I was pretty sure Mom wouldn’t let that fly, but I wasn’t positive. Those two were a force to be reckoned with when they teamed up together—Dad with his “No, I mean it” expression that made it impossible for me to tell if he was joking, and Kyle with his infectious giggle that bubbled up every time bathroom humor was employed.


And so I prayed. Every night before I went to bed, I prayed and prayed, with all the seven-year-old faith I could muster, that you would be a girl so you wouldn’t have to live your life under such a curse.


Sure enough, on a Friday in May all those years ago, Mom and Dad called from the hospital with the news. I was sitting on the bed in Grandma and Grandpa’s guest room—the one with the orange flowered bedspread. I could barely breathe as I waited for the announcement.


“It’s a girl,” Mom said.


I knew I was supposed to say something, but my throat was stuck. At seven, I thought you only cried when you were sad. I couldn’t figure out why tears were trying to squeeze out now, when I was so happy.


Finally I eked out the logical question: “What’s her name?”


Mom and Dad hadn’t decided yet. But it didn’t matter—I had a sister. And her name would not be Fart-Dart.


All these years later, God has answered my prayer in ways beyond what I thought I was asking for back then. I’d been praying for a sister to avoid a name disaster, and he’s given me a sister to talk with, laugh with, whisper with, and do crossword puzzles with. He’s given me a sister who shows me what it means to shine Christ’s light in the way she cares for others and faithfully lives her life. He’s given me a sister who encourages me to try new things, a sister who spurs me to live more fully and abundantly and joyfully. He’s given me a sister who also happens to be my friend.


Meghan, you are the answer to my prayers and then some.


And now in this year of your life, baby sister, you are going to have a baby yourself. And you know what? You’re going to be such a good mom. I’m praying for your baby as we count down these months and days, just as I prayed for you twenty-eight years ago—not about the gender this time, but that this child will love God and love people. That he’ll have a big heart and a pure faith. That he’ll embrace life with his arms wide open. Just like his mama.


But I do have just one piece of advice for you as prepare for this baby’s appearance: please, whatever you do, don’t name this kid Fart-Dart.



Sweet Sundays, Part 4 May 21, 2013

It’s startling how much I define my identity based on what I’ve accomplished in a day, on the tangible evidence I have to show for myself by the time I turn in for bed.


God designed a day of rest to be the antidote to this frenetic appeal to define our worth by what we produce. Each week I hear the Sabbath whispering in my ear, reminding me that I’m loved because I’m a child of God, not because I crossed four things off my to-do list.


On a Sunday a while back, my hubby was sick—the first time he’d had anything more devilish than a cold since I’ve known him. He’s the hardworking, highly active type, riding circles around me (literally! on his bicycle!), so it was disorienting to see him flat on his back for a week, ingesting nothing but Sprite and the occasional Ritz cracker.



But perhaps the bigger surprise was how I responded to the sick day. I should have seen it as a gentle nudge from on high, reminding me that this was the day to slow down. But I was antsy that the day was slipping by, that the laundry was piling up, that my in-box was filling up with unread messages. And for most of the afternoon, I confess that I did not rest. In body or in soul.


Later that evening, when I saw my husband piled under blankets, eyes glazed, I realized I had a chance to redeem what was left of the Sabbath. And so I pulled out the newspaper—the old-fashioned kind with paper and ink—and read it out loud to him (even those tedious NBA box scores, which flies in the face of productivity if anything ever did). Then I sat in my big comfy chair and cozied up with a cup of tea and a book I was reading—not for any of the three book clubs I’m in, but simply out of sheer delight.


It felt dizzying and terrifying and, to my surprise, even sacred.



The church Fathers often spoke of Otium Sactum, “holy leisure.” It refers to a sense of balance in the life, an ability to be at peace through the activities of the day, an ability to rest and take time to enjoy beauty, an ability to pace ourselves. With our tendency to define people in terms of what they produce, we would do well to cultivate “holy leisure.”

Richard Foster, A Celebration of Discipline


Friday Favorites May 17, 2013

For all the pleasers out there…

If you’ve ever struggled with trying to add to grace, wanting to earn a smile from God and other people, I highly recommend this book by Tullian Tchividjian. It has been a game changer for me: Jesus + Nothing = Everything


For all the teachers out there…

Teaching has to be one of the hardest, most thankless jobs out there. I had some amazing teachers and I know some amazing teachers, so I want to remind all you hardworking teachers out there that you are making a difference. (And you will make it through these last few weeks, I promise!) Dear Teachers Everywhere


For kids and everyone who loves a kid…

This was a fun list of children’s books—it made me reminisce about some of my childhood favorites and make a trip to the library to check out a few I missed: 25 Books Every Kid Should Have on Their Bookshelf



For Literary Nerds

In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, here’s a list of words we can thank him for. The world wouldn’t be the same without him, because I don’t think there’s a true synonym for bedazzled! 20 Words We Owe to William Shakespeare




For Moms and Non-Moms Alike…

Mother’s Day can be one of the trickiest holidays to handle. How do we honor moms while acknowledging women who don’t fit the traditional mold? This post by Sarah Arthur offers a compassionate perspective: Are Women Really Saved through Childbearing?



The Mother-Love of God May 13, 2013

Filed under: God's love — Stephanie Rische @ 1:24 pm
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My friend Sarah had a baby shower not long ago, and I was asked to share something before gift-opening time. I found myself stymied at first, not knowing firsthand what it’s like to be a mom, but as I pondered more, I realized I do know what it’s like to have a mom. I’ve been given the incomparable gift of a mom whose unconditional love has pointed me to the love of God. So whether you are a mom or have had a mom, I’d like to share Sarah’s shower message with you.


When we think about God, we usually picture him as a Father, and it’s true—he’s everything a good dad should be: loving, protective, strong, fair in his discipline. But who knew? The Bible also says that God is like a mother. Apparently there’s something about the love of a mom that shows us a side of God’s character nothing else can.


1. Like a mom, God loves his children before they’re even born.

Sarah, when you and John announced that you were expecting a baby, the room could barely contain your excitement. We could tell how overjoyed you were about this little person, even before you met her. Even when you were so sick you could barely get out of bed, you were already forming a special connection with her. The truth was obvious to the world: you loved your little girl.


God feels the same way about us, his children. He knew us even before we were born, just as he knows your baby girl even now, all four pounds of her. He knows every little detail about her—what color her eyes will be, if she’ll be musical or artistic or social, what will make her giggle, what will make her cry, what will make her heart pound with passion, what will make her heart break. And God loves her, even now.


You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body

and knit me together in my mother’s womb….

You saw me before I was born.

Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.

They cannot be numbered!

—Psalm 139:13, 16-17



2. Like a mom, God loves his children when they’re completely dependent on him.

Sarah, when that baby is placed in your arms in the hospital, the love will be a little one-sided at first. She won’t be able to pay you for taking care of her, she won’t be able to do any chores around the house to earn her keep, she won’t even be able to say thank you. But you know what? You’ll love her anyway, even though she can’t reciprocate your love.

That unconditional mother-love is the kind of love God has for us. We don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it, and we’re totally dependent on him. Yet he showers his love on us anyway.


Can a mother forget her nursing child?

Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?

But even if that were possible,

I would not forget you!
—Isaiah 49:15



3. Like a mom, God loves his children as they grow up.

Sarah, as your daughter grows up and starts to spread her wings, your love for her will only grow deeper. The way you show her love will look different—you won’t be changing her diaper or feeding her mashed peas anymore—but your love won’t change. You’ll always be her mom.


Psalm 131 talks about the beautiful bond that takes place between a mother and a child when the child chooses to be close—not because they need something, but just because they love their mom.


I have calmed and quieted myself,

like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.

Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
—Psalm 131:2


Sarah, I see that in your relationship with your own mom. You talk with her, you laugh with her, you share things with her—not just when you need something, but because she’s your friend. The same is true in our relationship with God. He wants us to come to him with our needs, yes, but he also delights when we come to him simply because we want to be in his presence. Like a weaned child.


So, Sarah, as you enter motherhood and as your daughter goes through each stage, I pray that you will grow in your love for her. And along the way, I pray that God will give you new glimpses into his own love. His unconditional, extravagant, mother-like love.


Postscript: Sarah and John’s baby girl, Hannah, entered the world two months ago. Happy first Mother’s Day, Sarah!




Book of the Month Club: Announcing the Selection for May May 7, 2013

Filed under: Book Club — Stephanie Rische @ 8:11 am
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First of all, congratulations to Luann for winning the free book for April’s book discussion!

 And the book of the month for May is…Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. (Thanks to brother-in-law Nate for the suggestion!)



Here’s the description of the book, taken from Gillian’s site:


Marriage can be a real killer. One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. As the Washington Post proclaimed, her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit with deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.


On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—bit is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?


Employing her trademark razor-sharp writing and assured psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her stats as one of the hottest writers around.


{Remember: I’ll send a free book to one randomly selected commenter!}


April Book Discussion May 3, 2013


Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club for April (which I introduced here). April’s selection was The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.


I’ll throw out some discussion topics, and you can post your feedback in the comments section—about these topics or about other things you’d like to talk about.


Discussion #1: Nailing the Issues

In my estimation, this book’s greatest strength is that it hits on hot-button issues for Christian women and starts a much-needed conversation. As I flipped to the table of contents, I was struck by how many of the topics evoked visceral reactions in me (modesty, submission, purity, fertility). I don’t think I’m alone in this—these are charged issues for many women because some churches have a history of coming down hard and graceless in these areas. I appreciate that this book encourages us to be intentional as we contemplate what biblical womanhood really looks like—what’s culture, what’s tradition, and what’s truly biblical.

“We dishonor the original intent and purpose of the Epistles when we assume they were written in a vacuum.” (p. 260)


Throughout these pages, Rachel extends an invitation to the Church to allow God to be creative in the way he gifts and equips women. She says that women can follow God in ways that look different for each person and encourages us to make use of our gifts, even the ones that aren’t traditionally seen as “feminine.”

“The Bible does not present us with a single model for womanhood, and the notion that it contains a sort of one-size-fits-all formula for how to be a woman of faith is a myth.” (p. 295)


Are any of the topics addressed in this book hot-button issues for you? How do you feel the Church has handled these topics—both historically and now?


Discussion #2: Entertainment Value

I’m a sucker for books about people who sign up to make their everyday lives an experiment, so I enjoyed Rachel’s premise. I appreciated her sense of humor in her retelling of events—especially her Martha Stewart cooking adventures, her backyard camping trip, and her introduction to parenting with Baby Chip.


What did you think of Rachel’s experiment? Would you ever embark on a similar journey?


Discussion #3: A “Slap-Bang” Approach

Having read my share of A. J. Jacobs, I was hoping Rachel would really dive in and explore biblical womanhood. Some of her experiments felt gimmicky and halfhearted—something of a “slap-bang” approach, to borrow her mom’s phrase.


On a related note, I would have liked to see more nuanced arguments to engage a conservative perspective. I usually agreed with her nuggets of wisdom at the end of each chapter, but it felt like she set up straw men at the opposite extreme (polygamists, misogynists, the Amish) without exploring what a more balanced approach might look like. Her claims stemmed from a pragmatic starting point (what worked for her), not from a biblical standpoint. For example, this is where she lands in the submission chapter:

“Life happened, and Dan and I quickly realized that we functioned best as a team of equal partners.” (p. 204)


It feels too easy to me to brush off parts of the Bible because they don’t “work.” After all, carrying your cross doesn’t seem like a particularly practical premise to build a religion on. How do you distinguish what scriptural teachings are unchanging standards and which ones are relevant only for a rachel5particular cultural context?


Discussion #4: The Highlight

My favorite chapter is the one on valor. Rachel offers authentic, credible insights into Proverbs 31 that I found freeing and life giving.

“Eschet chayil [woman of valor] is at its core a blessing—one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally.” (p. 88)


See my post here for more thoughts on women of valor.


Did you have a favorite part of the book or something that particularly resonated with you?




I commend Rachel for bringing these tough topics to the forefront of conversation among Christian women, and for that I say to her, “Eschet chayil!” Even so, I would have liked to see a more balanced, wholehearted approach. I would give this book 3 stars.

3 stars





What rating would you give this book?


{Remember: I’ll send a free book to one randomly selected commenter!}