Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Book of the Month Discussion: Prototype August 30, 2013

Filed under: Book Club — Stephanie Rische @ 7:59 am
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Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club this month! The selection for August was Prototype by Jonathan Martin, which I introduced here.



This book feels revolutionary to me—not in new ideas, but in its revolutionary application of ancient ones. Jonathan Martin manages to actually apply those truths we know in our heads but don’t always feel and put into practice. He poses this question, which seems to be the underlying premise for the entire book: “What if the ultimate goal of everything Jesus said and did was not just to get us to believe certain things about Him, but to become like Him?” (p. 18). In other words, what if we lived as if the gospel were really true—not just that we believe it’s true, but that we let it seep into every part of our lives?



I liked the author’s metaphor of riding his bike as a kid as a way to understand what it’s like to be fully ourselves in God’s presence: “It was so natural to be in His presence that I wasn’t even conscious of it” (p. 9). He articulates so well this longing to be known and to belong, encouraging us to recall “a time when you were open and free to the world around you, a time when you had a sense that there was something, or someone, drawing you close. Maybe you can even remember a time when you knew the sensation of being fully known and delighted in” (p. 12).


What is your metaphor for a time you were fully yourself in God’s presence? Maybe for you it wasn’t a bike or a trampoline, but is there a visual image that resonates with you?



The “Beloved” chapter was one of my favorites. I appreciate the way the author captures divine love, which is given not because we earn it or deserve it; instead, like David, we’re “loved simply because [we] exist” (p. 29). This desire to be loved isn’t something we outgrow; it’s hardwired into the way we’re made:  “The enchantment of divine love was there before we were born, it is native to us; we all have a primal desire inside of us to be the object of that delight, to be fully known before a God who celebrates us” (p. 22).


In what ways would your life look different if you truly grasped how beloved you are by God?



We often think of our times of suffering or spiritual dryness as punishment or as God turning his back on us, but the author offers another perspective: “God draws people into obscurity—into the wilderness—not because He’s angry with them or because they aren’t ‘successful enough,’ but because He wants to go deeper in His relationship with them. . . . The wilderness is a gift” (p. 50). Not only that, but the wilderness is a place we can connect with God in ways we can’t when life is cruising along just fine: “The wilderness is the place where God courts His beloved. When we step away from the noise and distraction, we find God has been wooing us all along” (p. 52).


Do you feel like you’re in the wilderness right now? Are there ways you’d like to intentionally withdraw and seek obscurity to be wooed by God?



All too often church can be a place where we try to pull ourselves together and put on masks to convince everyone else that we have it all together. But Martin points out that the core of the gospel is that beauty comes out of brokenness, that redemption comes out of the deepest wounds. “Jesus made His own brokenness a resource for healing for the entire world” (p. 106). Rather than being something to hide, our wounds are to be shared as a testimony to God’s work in our lives. “We don’t conceal our scars because our scars are our story, and our story, however broken, is a story of the tenderness of God” (p. 107).



When I got to the end of this book, I loved Jesus more than I did when I started, and I also have a deeper grasp of how loved I am by him. In light of that, plus the fact that I’ve underlined approximately one-third of the words on these pages, I would give this book four stars.

4 stars


How many stars would you give Prototype?


{Remember, I’ll give away a free book to one lucky commenter!}


The Summer Day August 27, 2013

Filed under: Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 12:07 pm
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Last weekend my husband and I escaped to a charming bed and breakfast along the Mississippi River to celebrate our anniversary. The town itself isn’t much to speak of—it has seen better economies, better days, better centuries even. But Ed and Sandy, the owners of the B&B, have created a little sanctuary right there in the heart of the town—a place of respite amid the busyness of life.


July August 2013 030


After a breakfast of pancakes loaded with plump blueberries, hot coffee with real cream, and fresh sweet strawberries, Daniel and I sat on the huge wrap-around front porch, serenaded by the songbirds and gurgling fountains that grace the property. Butterflies flitted from flower to flower, apparently as enticed by the aroma of the purple phlox as we were.


July.August 2013 038


Then Daniel pulled out his guitar started playing right there on the front porch, and as the morning sun filtered through the trees onto my neck, I wished I could bottle the moment and keep it all year. Summer in a jar.


July August 2013 018


At one point Daniel looked over at me and noticed that my book was uncharacteristically closed on my lap. I was just sitting there, silent, taking it all in.


“What are you thinking about?” he asked, no doubt concerned I’d slipped into a food coma after all those pancakes.


I couldn’t quite put it into words. But Mary Oliver captures the moment in her poem “The Summer Day.”


Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver


Sometimes prayer is about structure and discipline and articulate words. But sometimes it’s simply learning “how to be idle and blessed.” Sometimes prayer is sitting on the front porch soaking in this wild and wonderful world God has made.


Sometimes prayer is just paying attention.


So as summer slips into September and kids don backpacks and the days start taking shortcuts toward dusk, I want to take time to seize these final summer days. I don’t want life to slip by as I rush through my busy to-do list.


This summer day, this gift from God—what will I do with it? What will I do with this one wild and precious life?

July August 2013 043


Friday Favorites: August August 23, 2013

On this August Friday, here are are some of my recent favorites:


For introverts (and those who are mystified by them)…

I saw myself all over this list—maybe you will too. (Or maybe this will explain a lot about an introvert you love!) 23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert


ff August


For all productive types…
I loved Shauna Niequist’s challenge: Waste five minutes today. It’s All about the Heart Not the Hustle


ff August2


For everyone who’s feeling nostalgic about back-to-school time…

This is a rare recording of A. A. Milne reading Winnie the Pooh in 1929. Hear the Classic Winnie the Pooh Read by the Author


ff august3


For personality-type geeks…
These tongue-in-cheek prayers based on personality types cracked me up. Is it any surprise that the prayer for my INFJ type is “Lord help me not be a perfectionist. (Did I spell that correctly?)”? Prayers for Myers Briggs Types


ff august4


For all the book lovers out there
This quirky post marries two of my things: books and ice cream. My favorite book-inspired flavor: Clockwork Orange Dreamsicle. Book-Inspired Ice Cream Flavors

ff august5


The Wind in My Sails August 21, 2013

Filed under: Grace,Unexpected Lessons — Stephanie Rische @ 8:17 am
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“Wanna know what this bucket is for?” the seasoned sailor asked, throwing a pointed glance in my direction.


He was taking us out in his sailboat on Lake Michigan, and I was the only one in the group who had never been sailing before. Apparently he was afraid I’d be green in more ways than one.



I did my best to laugh, desperately hoping I wouldn’t need the bucket.


Then it was the sailor’s turn to laugh. “Oh, this bucket isn’t for you—it’s to clean up the deck afterward!”


On the way to the boat, we were regaled with sailing stories—about the time his boat flipped over in gale-force winds, the time the fog was so dense he couldn’t find his way back to the dock, the time he was several miles from land in the middle of a lightning storm. I was feeling queasy already, and we hadn’t even set foot onboard.


I tried to prep myself for every possible scenario. But when we finally got out onto the water, we encountered the one situation I hadn’t envisioned: everything was utterly still. I held my face up to the sky but couldn’t detect so much as a hint of a breeze.


There we were, sitting in the middle of the huge lake—normally filled with cresting whitecaps but on that day looking as smooth as glass. The sails hung limp and lifeless above us.


The sailboat boasted every possible gadget you could imagine—a GPS that told you exactly where you were in relation to your destination, a gauge that read the temperate both in the air and in the water, a sensory device that detected the depth of the water and how many fish were camping out beneath the surface. But none of it mattered if we couldn’t leave the shoreline. We had no manmade gadget that could perform the function of the wind. (Although my husband, funny guy that he is, tired his best to fill his lungs and blow on the sails in an attempt to create some action.)



It turned out to be a lovely, if anticlimactic, afternoon on the water. But as we basked in the sun and ate a picnic lunch on the idle boat, it got me to thinking about the Holy Spirit, of all things.


The Bible often uses wind as a metaphor to describe the way God works. Like the wind, a tiny puff of his breath has power to set us in motion, to move us forward, to change our course. We may not be able to see him, but there’s no denying it when we’re in the wake of what he’s doing.


Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind . . . so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things.

—Ecclesiastes 11:5


Our boat outing revealed a nautical and spiritual truth: if God’s Spirit isn’t breathing power into a venture, no amount of huffing and puffing on my part will make it move.


The breath of God isn’t something we can control. But we can be ready for it—we can embrace it when it comes. His breath is a gift of movement, a gift of direction, a gift of power. Ultimately, it is the breath of grace.




Thin Places August 13, 2013

Filed under: Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 4:01 pm
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There are some moments when the curtain between heaven and earth flutters open slightly and we are able to get a peek into the other side. Such was the case for me on a Saturday I won’t soon forget.


My mom and I went to visit my childhood pastor and his wife, who have also become family friends over the years. They moved into a retirement facility last year, and not long after they settled into their new place, Pastor Bob’s Alzheimer’s progressed to the point that Ruth could no longer take care of him. He now lives in a separate wing in the same facility, where he gets round-the-clock care from nurses, not to mention daily visits from Ruth, who feeds him, does his laundry, holds his hand, and talks to him, even though he no longer knows her name and can’t form coherent words in response.


Ruth and Bob celebrated their anniversary the week before our visit. “Sixty-four years,” she says, her eyes sparkling. Her face becomes animated as she recounts the story of their whirlwind engagement. They’d been dating for a number of years, but in those years just after the Second World War, housing was nearly impossible to find. Then one day Bob’s dad saw a farm he just had to have and bought it on the spot. He asked Bob if he would farm it. Would he!


Bob wasted no time rushing to Ruth’s apartment, taking the stairs three at a time.


Excitedly he announced, “We can get married!”


Ruth stared at him in amazement. “When?”


“Two weeks should work.”


“Two weeks?” Her mouth fell open. “Impossible!”


They compromised. Three weeks.


“My poor mother!” Ruth says with a laugh. “Only three weeks to plan a wedding—and just before Christmas, at that!”


Then a shadow comes over Ruth’s countenance. “I married a man,” she says. “And now I have a little boy.”

* * *

pastor bob2

Sitting around Ruth’s dining room table, eating spice cookies off gold dishes and sipping sparkling pomegranate juice, we hear the update on Bob—how he no longer seems to recognize his children, how this man who had once made a living communicating is now essentially nonverbal. He can make sounds, but everything comes out in gibberish. Ruth isn’t sure if he always recognizes her, but often when she enters the room, he reaches out his arms, like a child who wants to be picked up and loved.


“It’s difficult,” Ruth says, “what with his apparent loss of memory about his life and his walk with the Lord.” Other than a rare whisper of “Thank you, Jesus” or “Praise the Lord,” or the time he hummed the entire tune of “Children of the Heavenly Father,” the faithful man she once knew is now mostly locked inside.


As I reach over and grab her hand, I think about how fine that line is separating heaven and earth. And I cling to the hope that in this fuzzy in-between place, where human bodies crumble and memories fail, God never forgets us: “I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you” (Isaiah 44:21).


* * *

After lunch we go down to the Alzheimer’s wing to visit Pastor Bob. I thought I knew what to expect, but there’s no real way to prepare for finding someone so drastically changed. This once articulate man, so full of energy, always ready with a joke or a story or a theological conundrum, can’t even say hello.

pastor bob1


Mom and I share fond memories with Pastor Bob, mostly for Ruth’s benefit. As we sit there, a flood of memories washes over me—Pastor Bob praying over me at my confirmation, the way he led our congregation in prayer before church potlucks, the way he always remembered to pray for the sick and the shut-ins. And I wondered, Who is praying for him now that he’s the one who’s sick?


Without thinking, I say, “Pastor Bob, can I pray for you?”


And for the first time that visit, his entire face beams. His eyes connect directly with mine, and he offers me his widest grin.


I don’t even know what comes out of my mouth in that prayer—I’m sure my own words are little more than gibberish. But it doesn’t matter. God understands what both our hearts are saying.


The early Celtic Christians had a name for the times when the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted. Thin places, they called them. According to one Celtic saying, heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places, that gap narrows and we are given a peek into God’s glory.


Later that afternoon, when Mom and I get in the car to head home, we stare at each other, trying to take in all we were witness to that day.


“I feel kind of shaky,” Mom tells me, and I agree.


A thin place indeed. Who wouldn’t feel shaky when you’re standing at such a small gap between heaven and earth?



Epilogue: Between the time of the writing and the posting of this piece, Pastor Bob passed through that thin place. He is now face-to-face with his Savior, with no veil between him and his Savior.


“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

—Søren Kierkegaard


On Grace and Ketchup August 9, 2013

Filed under: Grace — Stephanie Rische @ 10:12 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Forgive me for being sacrilegious, but every time I sing “Jesus Paid It All,” I can’t help but think about ketchup.


My husband played his bass at church last week, and we sang the lines of that old classic spiritual:


Jesus paid it all

All to him I owe

Sin had left a crimson stain

He washed it white as snow


While other people were no doubt musing about spiritual things like substitutionary atonement, I was instantly transported to the teenage version of myself. On a big yellow school bus, no less.


I was sixteen, and just a few months prior, I’d made the first major clothing purchase of my life: a beautiful brown suede leather jacket. I’d had my eye on it for a long time, and after saving up my heard-earned babysitting money, I finally made the purchase.



I felt pretty cool wearing it to high school (even if I was mortified to still be riding the bus). One morning I was minding my own business, doing some finishing touches on my homework on the way to school, when all of a sudden I heard a sickening splat. I looked down at the arm of my precious caramel-colored jacket. It was smeared with ketchup, the casualty of crossfire between two punky boys who were apparently having a post-breakfast food fight.


I was, in all the drama of teenagerdom, devastated.


Later Mom and I took the coat to the dry cleaner’s. The lady matter-of-factly told me they’d be able to get the ketchup out but the coat would never be the same. I was crushed. But I also knew I wouldn’t be able to stand smelling vaguely like McDonald’s for any length of time, so I handed over the jacket.


They were right. The coat was never the same again. It lost its velvety finish, and the discolored spot where the ketchup hit its mark never went away.


When I think about the stain of my sin, I have the same fear—that the stain will never come out. And that even if does, I’ll never be the same again. So I hold back from going to the only one who can make me clean again. I try in vain to mask the ketchupy stench that trails me wherever I go.


At the risk of stating the obvious, Jesus’ cleansing abilities are infinitely more effective than the dry cleaner’s. Sin has indeed left its crimson mark on us, but it’s no match for his forgiveness. He washes us white as snow, and leaves us better than he found us.

“Come now, let’s settle this,”

says the Lord.

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

I will make them as white as snow.

Though they are red like crimson,

I will make them as white as wool.”

—Isaiah 1:18


Whatever marred spot you are trying to hide, it’s time to come and settle this. There is no sin too great, no stain too deep, that he cannot wipe it out.


But even so, if you ever find yourself on the school bus with punky kids, I’d advise you to leave the leather jacket at home.


white as snow


Book of the Month Club for August August 6, 2013

Filed under: Book Club — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Congratulations to Kelli for winning the free book giveaway for July! You can read more about our discussion of quirky characters and Seattle and Antarctica here.


And now, announcing the book of the month for August: Prototype by Jonathan Martin.


Here’s the description, taken from the back of the book:


Jesus is God and we are not. Most of us get that. But what we don’t always understand is that God loves us just as much as He does His Son. Many times in the Old Testament, God refers to human beings as His “beloved.” But when God called Jesus His beloved, Jesus did something truly remarkable: He believed Him. He lived every moment of His life fully convinced of His identity. And unlike every other person in history . . . He never forgot.

In Prototype, Jonathan Martin creates a vivid understanding of what it means to be beloved by God. To completely trust, as Jesus did, that God loves you. To live life without fear, confident in your identity and purpose. To handle life’s wounds as Jesus did, and to wake every day with a deep awareness of God’s presence.

Martin reveals a startling truth at the heart of the gospel: Jesus is our prototype. And as we discover how the knowledge of being God’s beloved changed everything for Jesus—how it set Him free to live out his purpose and love God, others, and the world—it will begin to do the same for us.


I hope you’ll join us!


{Remember—there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!}


Book of the Month Discussion: Where’d You Go, Bernadette August 2, 2013

Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club (which I introduced here). July’s selection was Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.


Discussion #1: Quirky Style

I enjoyed the unique format of the storytelling in this book. It’s part epistolary (with the letters and the documents Bee discovers telling part of the story) and part narrative, and I think the combination works well. I appreciate that the firsthand documents help us piece together clues alongside Bee, while the narrative parts gives us a window into Bee’s thoughts and personality.


What did you think of the style? Did it work for you?


Discussion #2: 3-D Characters

The characters in this novel felt quirky but real to me. Case in point: Bernadette is clearly disturbed and unstable, but she’s still lovable, and we gradually get a peek into more layers of her character as the story progresses. Audrey seems to be annoying and one-dimensional at first, but she turns out to be the one who saves Bernadette, and we see her soften from her judgmental, shallow ways. And then there’s Bee—the smart, precocious heroine who manages to unravel the mystery and carry the load of an adult role in her search for her mom.


One of the interesting about these characters was how they seemed to coexist side by side but in their own separate worlds—it’s like they are somehow lonely together. At one point Bee says:

I don’t know if it’s possible to feel everything all at once, so much that you think you’re going to burst. . . . I felt so full of love for everything. But at the same, I felt so hung out to dry there, like nobody could ever understand. I felt so alone in this world, and so loved at the same time. (p. 199)


What did you think of the characters? Did you have a favorite? Was there a character you couldn’t stand?


Discussion #3: Seattle as a Character

Seattle is practically a character in the novel—and a dynamic one at that, as we see the city through Bernadette’s eyes. At first she appreciates how refreshingly different it is from California, but eventually she starts to resent everything about the city—the weather, the crunchy granola types, the Microsoft culture—and Bernadette practically blames the city for driving her away. But in the stark, unforgiving cold desert climate of Antarctica—so opposite from Seattle—Bernadette starts to appreciate what she left behind in the Emerald City.


Do you think this story would work in another setting? Did the portrayal of Seattle ring true to you?


Discussion #4: The Mind of an Artist

It was heartbreaking to finally unravel what had happened to Bernadette’s architectural masterpiece. Here’s what Bernadette says about it in her letter to Bee:

By now you’ve learned that I’m a certified genius. . . . Really, who wants to admit to her daughter that she was once considered the most promising architect in the country, but now devotes her celebrated genius to maligning the driver in front of her for having Idaho plates? (p. 316)


How do you think you would have responded if someone had destroyed your life’s work like that?


Do you know any artists? What happens to them if they don’t create?



I would give this book 4 stars for the ever-precocious Bee and the creative storytelling.

4 stars


What rating would you give this book?


{Remember: There will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!}