Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Book of the Month Discussion: And the Mountains Echoed September 27, 2013

Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club about And the Mountains Echoed, which I introduced here.

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Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few topics for discussion, and you can write your responses about these topics (or others you’d like to discuss) in the comment section.

 

Discussion #1: Family Relationships

This book is stitched together with the best and worst of family relationships—both profound love and the worst kinds of betrayal. It was fascinating to explore what happens to families under extreme circumstances—how some parents gave a child away in hopes of a better life for her and how others sacrificed everything to give their children a better life; how one mother left her daughter to fend for herself while other parental figures stepped in to love children who weren’t their own; how tragedy drew some siblings closer than ever and pushed others apart.

 

I also noted a recurring theme of children being separated from their families (Pari being split up from her biological family and particularly her brother, Abdullah; Pari losing her adoptive mother to suicide; the injured girl Roshi being torn from her murdered family; Talia being left by her mother, Madeleine). The book says that Pari has always felt “the absence of something, or someone, fundamental to her own existence. . . . Sometimes it was vague, like a message sent across shadowy byways and vast distances, a weak signal on a radio dial, remote, warbled. Other times it felt so clear, this absence, so intimately close it made her heart lurch.”

 

This book seems to claim that families can love us the best and hurt us the most. Do you agree or disagree? Do you think there are situations where it’s best for a child is to be separated from his or her family?

 

Discussion #2: A Peek into a Different World

I read Hosseini’s first book, Kite Runner, on a plane ride to Thailand, and when I returned home, I remember feeling like I’d traveled to two different countries on that trip. The author painted such a clear picture of Afghanistan that I felt like I’d been transported to that world. I felt the same way with And the Mountains Echoed. Hosseini has a gift for bringing places to life, and I enjoyed reading about Kabul through the eyes of story and characters rather than just the lens of the news.

 

What did you think of this book’s portrayal of Afghanistan? Did it make you want to visit?

 

Discussion #3: Overlapping Stories

It took me a while to figure out how all the characters and stories tied together. This might have been especially problematic for me because I listened to it and couldn’t flip back to be reminded about certain characters, but at any rate, it took me a while to get my bearings. Once I figured out that the stories were all satellites from Abdullah and Pari, I was able to piece things together, but I wish the author had made it clearer from the beginning.

 

What did you think of the author’s style? Did you like the approach to tell multiple stories, or do you wish he’d focused more on one character’s story?

 

Discussion #4: Right and Wrong

The book opens with Saboor’s bedtime story to his children about the div (which I gathered to be something of an ogre). It seemed like an odd place to start at first, but as the book went on, I decided it was a perfect setup for the difficult decisions the characters (and especially the parents in the stories) had to make. The father in the tale did the unthinkable—he sacrificed his son for the sake of the rest of his family—but the father came to believe that was the safest thing for him. Saboor himself had to make a similar decision to let Pari be raised by the Nila. Throughout the book, other characters are forced to make similar decisions that have no clear black-and-white answers.

 

I discovered that this book’s title is taken from a poem by William Blake called “Nurse’s Song: Innocence,” which refers to hills echoing with the sound of children’s voices. The last stanza has a haunting feel that’s reflected in Hosseini’s book. The children he writes about who grew up on the tumultuous playground of Afghanistan—they were just children, but they had to see so much.

 

Well well go & play till the light fades away
And then go home to bed
The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d
And all the hills echoed

 

Were there any characters you were angry with for making wrong choices for their children? Were there any characters you admired for their willingness to do the right thing?

 

Rating

I would give And the Mountains Echoed 4 stars for the emotive storytelling and the vivid way it brought an unfamiliar culture to life.

 4 stars

How many stars would you give this book?

 

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

 

The Knife September 24, 2013

In my role as an editor, I’ve been dubbed “The Knife” by a few select people. It may sound a bit harsh at first, especially since if you know me, you know I don’t enjoy inflicting pain. (Case in point: as much as I love bacon, I’ve been known to go vegetarian at pig roasts because I can’t bear the thought of eating little Porky once I’ve seen his face.)

 

But there’s something to the nickname, because ultimately an editor is a surgeon . . . someone who identifies the parts that are sick, decaying, or sucking the life out of a manuscript, and then ever so carefully removes them. For some manuscripts, this looks like major amputation, followed by the grafting-in of new content. Other manuscripts require the use of a smaller knife for more intricate incisions.

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As gentle and careful as a surgeon might be, there’s no getting around it: the knife hurts. It’s never pleasant to have a part of yourself sliced into or lopped off. But the alternative is worse. It’s better to have someone who cares about you do surgery than to let the infection worsen and potentially creep to other parts of the body (or manuscript) as well.

 

Lately I went through the eye-opening experience of having the tables turned. Instead of the knife being in my own hand, this time I was on the receiving end of the edits. And you know what? It hurt to be on the operating table. But in the best possible way. That’s how it feels when you hear truth from someone who loves you. Good hurt.

 

Wounds from a sincere friend

are better than many kisses from an enemy.

—Proverbs 27:6

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As in manuscripts, so it is in life. Although there’s a part of me that wants to bury my head in the sand and hide my vulnerable places in front of others, deep down I really want to know my weak spots. I want someone to gently point out my blind spots. It’s the only way I know to grow.

 

Right now I’m reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, and she talks a lot about the power of making ourselves vulnerable before others. “Courage,” she says, “starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

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Maybe you don’t need a literal editor or a surgeon right now, but in what ways do you need to show up and let yourself be seen? Where do you need to let down your guard? Where do you need to allow other people speak truth into your life?

 

If we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. . . . To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.

—Brené Brown

 

If we’re going to grow and dare and live brave, then we need to put ourselves on the operating table every once in a while . . . and entrust our friends with the knife.

 

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Sweet Sundays: Part 6 September 20, 2013

Filed under: Sweet Sundays — Stephanie Rische @ 8:07 am
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I woke up to the sound of rain last Sunday, and the to-do list started pummeling faster and harder than the drops against the skylight.

 

  • The sink has acquired that nasty yellow scum line on it again. Must clean this afternoon.
  • When’s the last time I got in a good workout? Must connect with the treadmill at some point today.
  • Oh yeah, I’m scheduled for coffee duty at church. Must get out of bed and caffeinate the congregation.

 rain1

 

As the day wore on, the rain let up, but not so my inner taskmaster.

  • The well-meaning friend at church described the dinner she was making for her husband that night. (I couldn’t pronounce most of the ingredients, let alone do any sort of alchemy with them in the kitchen.) Must cook something more exotic than tacos tonight.
  • The freelance project deadline is looming. Must make a dent in that today.

 

But finally, ever so quietly, I heard a subtler voice beneath the deluge of my to-do list. It was a voice reminding me that today was the Sabbath. The day that flies in the face of productivity. The day that in some counterintuitive way recharges me to be whole and refreshed so I’ll be ready to face the six days ahead. The day that’s intended to be devoted to Someone else’s agenda rather than my own.

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C. S. Lewis knew what it’s like to be pummeled with “fussing and frettings” from the moment our feet hit the ground:

 

It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussing and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

 

It was a battle—I’m not going to lie. For once, though, the Sabbath won, and this was a battle I was happy to lose. The sink still sports its yellow ring, the treadmill accumulated dust all day, the freelance project was categorically ignored, and I reheated leftovers for dinner. And you know what? Nobody died. The world didn’t end.

 

I’m writing this down in hopes that I’ll remember. Next time, when all the to-dos rush at me like so many wild animals, I want to take my cues from Lewis and let that larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. I invite you to join me.

 

Come on in, out of the wind . . . and rest awhile.

 

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Raspberry Harvest September 17, 2013

Filed under: Faith,Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:13 am
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Among the mental snapshots that defined summer for me as a child were those 100-degree days at my grandparents’ house. We’d spend all day outside—playing shuffleboard, running through the sprinkler, and going boating on the river.

 

But some of my most cherished memories were the afternoons in my grandfather’s raspberry patch. I loved the sweet tang of Grandpa’s raspberries in all forms—in homemade raspberry jam, in a bowl with cream, in Grandma’s array of luscious pastries and desserts. But my favorite way to eat the raspberries was straight off the vine, under the hot desert sun.

 Grandpa 2

***

 

My grandpa’s dementia has been creeping in over the past decade or so, and his once immaculate garden has now almost entirely surrendered to weeds and grass. There are no more army-straight rows of tomatoes or cucumbers, and his herb patch is no more than a memory. But somehow his raspberry bushes are still there—still producing fruit, still offering their ripe summer gifts.

 

I went to visit my grandparents over the summer, and on one 100-degree afternoon, with the desert sun smiling down on neck just the way I remembered from my childhood, I went out to the raspberry bushes with Grandpa to fill our little green baskets.

 

Grandpa struggles with basic tasks now, and on the way from the garage to the raspberry patch, he turned to me more than once to ask, “Now what are we supposed to be doing?”

 Grandpa 1

 

But the moment we got to the raspberry bushes, his motor memory kicked in, and he started picking like the efficient gardener I remember. I’d finish a raspberry bush, feeling confident I’d gotten all the ripe ones, and Grandpa would come along behind me, quietly filling his basket with all the hidden berries I’d missed.

 

***

 

We celebrated my grandparents’ 60th anniversary while I was there, and one night at dinner, as I looked around the huge table filled with their family—all the people who wouldn’t have been possible without them—I marveled at the harvest they are reaping after more than half a century together.

 

I looked at Grandpa’s daughter and her two children who all share his love of singing and who grace others with that gift as well.

 

I looked at my cousin with the mechanically wired mind, the curiosity to take things apart and put them together again—just like Grandpa.

 

I looked at my brother—the leader with the servant-heart—and saw my grandpa reflected in another generation.

 

I looked at my sister and my cousin—the ones with the big hearts and much love for people—and felt sure Grandpa must be proud.

 

I looked at his daughters who have sacrificed much and loved their families well, just as their father before them has done.

 

And as we toasted Grandma and Grandpa with generous slices of chocolate cake, it struck me that although Grandpa isn’t able to do much sowing right now, he’s reaping a harvest of all he’s planted over these 80-plus years. All those labors of love, all the watering and tending and patience and gentle pruning—it’s paying off now in the legacy he leaves to his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren.

 

So thank you, Grandpa. Thank you for all your years of faithfulness. Because of you, future generations will keep reaping what you planted. I’m so grateful to be one of the shoots tended in that soil.

 Grandpa 3

 

Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

—Galatians 6:9

 

Friday Favorites: September edition September 13, 2013

Filed under: Friday Favorites — Stephanie Rische @ 8:06 am
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Here are a few recent favorites I’d like to share with you today. Enjoy!

For Book Lovers…

These clever photoshopped covers show how much a simple letter can change the meaning of a title: Book Titles with a Letter Missing.

 ff sept

 

For Lexiphiles…

I’ve always wondered why cleave can mean “to stick to something” or “to be divided.” Apparently there are other crazy words like that in the English language: 14 Words That Are Their Own Opposites.

 ff sept2

 

For Travelers…

Now that summer is over, it’s time to start dreaming up your next travel adventure. Here’s a fantastic list of literary spots to add to your itinerary: 50 Places Every Literary Fan Should Visit

 ff sept 3

 

For Music Fans…

I’ve been listening to this All Sons and Daughters album for months straight, it seems, and it never gets old. The music is beautiful, and the lyrics are real: All Sons and Daughters

ff sept 3

 

For Anyone Wondering What Makes a Relationship Successful

In honor of her 12th anniversary, Shauna Niequist’s offers these insightful reflections about being intentional about keeping a marriage strong: On Marriage, Music, and the Fire Escape

ff sept 5

 

Learning to Fall September 10, 2013

Filed under: Faith — Stephanie Rische @ 8:16 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Daniel and I recently attended a family celebration in honor of his nephew’s first birthday. Colin himself was underwhelmed by the occasion (although he was pretty excited about the chocolate cake and the ensuing opportunity to make a mess with the frosting). Eventually, with some enticement from us grown-ups, he did start getting into the gifts (or at least the wrapping paper and boxes), but for the most part he didn’t seem to know what all the fuss was about.

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After the birthday boy went to bed, the rest of us sat around the table reflecting on how much Colin had changed over the past year—and how much he had changed us. As we talked, it occurred to me that the celebration of the first year is as much about the people who love the kid as it is about the kid himself.

 

We went around the table listing adjectives that describe our 15 pounds of charm and came with this list: adventurous, determined, focused, sweet, flexible, curious, daring, funny, hammy, independent, cuddly. And fearless.

 

There was no question about fearless. In fact, he’d proved it earlier that day at his own party.

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Perhaps we owe Colin’s impeccable timing to the fact that he’s a bit of a ham, but sure enough, he waited to take his first steps until there was an adequate audience. Then, right between cake and presents, he stood up on the blanket in the grass and showed off his first steps to the adoring crowd, over and over again. The more we clapped and cheered him on, the braver he became, the more consecutive steps he took.

 

As I watched him learn to walk—toppling to the side, lunging forward into his mom’s arms, or plopping backward with only his diaper for padding—I thought how smart God is to have us learn this rather treacherous skill as babies. Colin doesn’t have enough life experience yet to be afraid. He doesn’t know that falling and failing are pretty much guaranteed when you’re learning something new. And he doesn’t know how much it can hurt sometimes.

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I have a few years on Colin, but there are some things I need to learn from him (or maybe things I need to unlearn). Because here’s the thing: when I try so hard to prevent myself from falling—to self-protect from failure and pain—I miss out on the next steps, the new adventures God has in mind for me. And I deprive myself of the thrill of lunging forward, childlike, into the arms of grace—into the arms of someone who loves me.

 

So here’s to Colin. Here’s to being one, to being fearless. Here’s to toddling—to falling and failing. If that’s what it takes to learn the next baby steps before me, then count me in.

 

But I still may look into some padding for my backside, if it’s all the same to everyone else.

 

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We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.

—2 Corinthians 4:9

 

Shine September 6, 2013

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

{Last weekend we celebrated the upcoming birth of my sister’s baby with a small family gathering, a few gifts, and some raspberry punch. I took advantage of the opportunity to brag a little about my kid sister, and I thought I’d share those thoughts here. She’s going to be a great mom, don’t you think?}

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Ever since Meghan was a baby, we could all tell there was something special about her. Yes, she was determined and tough and always on the go, right from the beginning. But there was something else about her too . . . a brightness and a warmth about her that attracted people to her. It was like she’d swallowed sunshine and it couldn’t help but beam out of her. As she grew up, it became clear that she reflected God’s light in a beautiful, unique way.

 

When I think about Meghan, one word that always comes to mind is shine. For as long as I can remember, she has lived out this verse:

Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
—Matthew 5:16

 

Let me tell you a story as a case in point. When Meghan was about four years old, she was very serious about her piggy bank. She saved every penny and guarded against conniving older siblings who might try to convince her to trade her measly little dimes for their big nickels (hypothetically speaking, of course). She never spent her money, even if there was a special toy she had her sights set on.

 

But then one day she overheard the rest of the family talking about kids who didn’t have enough money for basic things like food and clothing. She didn’t say anything, and the rest of us didn’t know she’d been following the conversation. But later that night, at bedtime, she went to Mom, eyes wide.

 

“Here, Mom,” she said, handing over her entire piggy bank, with every dime in it.

 

Mom looked her, confused.

 

“It’s for the kids,” Meghan said.

 

Kyle and I stared in wonder. This kid was shining already, at the age of four.

 

As Meghan grew up, her shine factor only grew brighter. She shone at school, on the basketball court, on the tennis court, with her friends, in leadership positions. She didn’t preach much, but she didn’t need to. Her actions were a winsome reflection of the God she served so faithfully and wholeheartedly.

 

One of the clearest snapshots in my mind of this shining sister of mine was before each college track meet. Mom and Dad and I attended almost every meet, and we always arrived early (largely due to Dad’s nerves). It was a fascinating study to observe the athletes in their pre-competition rituals. Each athlete’s routine was different, but there were some common threads: each person was focused and serious, and you could tell by the way they looked at their competitors that they were sizing them up to see if they should be scared of them or if they could squash them like bugs.

 

Then there was Meghan. If I ever wondered where she was before a meet, I could be sure to find her at the side of her fiercest competition. But she was neither quaking in her running spikes nor engaging in intimidation strategies. Rather, she was trying to turn her competitor into a friend. Certainly, she was focused and determined and playing to win. But she also knew there are some things that are more important than winning. As proud as I am of her athletic accomplishments, I’m even more proud of the way she shone at those meets, win or lose.

 

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Then, to our amazement and delight, Meghan met a fellow track star (pun intended) named Ted, who shone the way she did—on the track, with his teammates and classmates, with his Young Life students.

 

Meghan and Ted continue to shine now—with their coworkers, at their church, in their neighborhood. Everyone who sees them can tell there is something different about them—something that sets them apart. Even if people can’t put their finger on what it is exactly, we know that their shine comes from the way they reflect the light of their heavenly Father.

 

And now, as I think about this baby, I can’t help but think how blessed this kid will be to have parents who shine the way Meghan and Ted do. I don’t know exactly how God’s light will shine in and through this child, but I believe God will use this kid in incredible ways to bring his light into this dark world.

 

So now I’d like to share a “shine blessing” with Meghan and the baby now. These are the words that God told Moses’ brother, Aaron, to say as a blessing over the Israelites, and it’s the same words mom used to say over us at the bus stop before we went to school.

May the Lord bless you
and keep you;
May the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
May the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
—Numbers 6:24-26

 

So please come meet us soon, Baby. Your auntie can’t wait to see the way you shine.

 

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