Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

The Joy of “Again!” May 22, 2012

Filed under: 2 Samuel,Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 8:06 am
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“I can’t go to sleep, Daddy,” Lyla said. “My heart is crying.”

My brother and his family were on vacation in Florida, and he’d gone in to check on my three-year-old niece, who was supposed to be napping.

He put his hand on the top of her head. “Why is your heart crying?”

“My heart wants to go in the water. It won’t stop crying until it can go swimming again.”

Never mind the fact that she’d been splashing in the pool all day yesterday, she’d been out the entire morning that day, and tomorrow would be more of the same. Her little heart never tired of this bliss. Again, Daddy!

I have to confess that at this point I’m getting a bit bogged down in my chronological reading. Yes, I love the fact that the psalms are right next to the events that inspired them, and David has enough drama to put Days of Our Lives to shame. The part that’s getting to me is the repetition.

Ever since I hit the book of 2 Samuel, I’ve been getting waves of scriptural déjà vu. About halfway through my daily readings, I find myself stopping to wonder, Didn’t I just read that? And then I realize I’m getting the story a second time, this time from the 1 Chronicles perspective.

I wish I could say I jump at the chance to ingest these truths a second time around, soaking them in over my cup of coffee, but that’s not how things typically pan out. I find myself skimming the repeated sections, my mind wandering toward my ever-lurking to-do list. My sense of efficiency takes offense at such repetition.

 

But my brother’s story stops me short. Is this what it means to have a childlike faith? To be a child, after all, is to love repetition, to be fully present in the moment. To be a child is to beg your father, “Again! Again!”

G. K. Chesterton poses the idea that children may be onto something spiritual in their love of repetition:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough….It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

I just read David’s song of praise twice—once from 2 Samuel and once from the Psalms. But this time when I got to the repeated bits, I tried to approach them like a child—with delight in the repetition.

I will praise you among the nations;
I will sing praises to your name. . . .
You show unfailing love to your anointed,
to David and all his descendants forever.
—2 Samuel 22:50-51

I will praise you among the nations;
I will sing praises to your name. . . .
You show unfailing love to your anointed,
to David and all his descendants forever.
—Psalm 18:49-50

May I take my cue from little Lyla: Again, Daddy! Again!

***

 

Question: What do the little people in your life teach you about childlike faith?

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

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Four Feet Off the Ground May 18, 2012

Filed under: 2 Samuel,Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 4:43 pm
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My first summer job as a teenager was as a gymnastics coach at the YMCA. I was in charge of the Beginners class, which ranged from four-year-olds in pint-sized leotards to junior high girls who had watched the Summer Olympics and been inspired by the likes of Shannon Miller and Kerri Strug.

Invariably the girls were enamored with the tumbling mats and the uneven bars. They loved somersaulting and cartwheeling to their hearts’ content, and they delighted in swinging on the bars. But there was a consistent nemesis for these budding gymnasts: the balance beam.

I couldn’t blame them. Here they were supposed to walk on a four-inch slab of wood four feet off the ground—and most of their heads didn’t even reach the top of the beam! But the fact remained: if they were going to pass the class and advance to the next level, they’d have to make it from one end of the beam to the other. All by themselves.

I’ll never forget the five-year-old twins in my class: tow-headed girls named Zoe and Chloe. Chloe had successfully completed each requisite for the class and had her certificate proudly in hand, marking her promotion to Advanced Beginners. But her blue eyes got big when a realization struck: her sister hadn’t walked the beam yet.

My progression for teaching this particular skill went like this: first, I’d have the girls walk on a line on the floor to show them that four inches was wider than they thought. Then when each girl got up on the beam, I’d keep pace alongside her, holding her hand each step of the way. When I was confident the gymnast was ready, I’d send her on her first solo attempt.

Zoe had the skills to conquer the balance beam, and she knew exactly what she needed to do. But she was facing an obstacle more daunting than the four-foot apparatus in front of her: a mental one. As soon as I’d let go of her hand, she’d look at the ground below, and all she could think about was how far she had to fall. But here’s the thing about walking four feet above the ground: if you want to make it to your destination, you have to keep your eyes up. Otherwise you’ll lose balance, perspective. And that’s when you’re destined to fall.

Reading the account of David’s affair with Bathsheba is a bit like watching those Olympic gymnasts on the balance beam. You hold your breath, knowing a misstep could result in the catastrophic loss of everything they’d worked so hard to achieve.

Perhaps the worst part about David’s story is how oblivious he was to his fall at first. Despite his status as a man after God’s own heart, he didn’t confess straight away—not after Bathsheba turned up pregnant, not after he received word that Uriah had been killed on the front lines of battle. It wasn’t until the prophet Nathan confronted him, boldly calling him on his sin (2 Samuel 12), that he finally broke down and repented.

His heartbreaking cry for mercy is recorded in Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
—Psalm 51:1-2

As humans we have a tendency to embrace a cheap imitation of grace, interpreting it as an excuse to brush off sin or downplay its consequences. But Scripture presents a clear pattern: repentance and godly sorrow first, then mercy.

On the last day of the gymnastics class, I looked at Zoe. “Okay, kiddo,” I said. “Today is your day.”

She got onto the beam, her little knees knocking. Then, instead of standing beside her, I went to the far end of the balance beam. “Keep your head up,” I told her. “Just look at me.” Step by step she inched forward, her eyes never leaving mine.

There are times we need friends who will walk beside us and urge us along. But there are other times we need a coach who will boldly tell us to lift our eyes off the ground so we can walk the straight and narrow. Sometimes the most grace-invoking thing a friend can do is confront us.

In this precarious walk called life, we all need a Nathan.

***

 

Question: Do you have a Nathan? If not, who can you invite to be your Nathan?

 

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

 

 

Eating with the Enemy May 15, 2012

Filed under: 2 Samuel — Stephanie Rische @ 4:54 pm
Tags: , ,

One of the stories my family likes to tell on me is the Crotchety Old Man on the Bike Path incident. You might hear various renditions and or embellishments depending on the source, but the basic version goes like this:

 

The five of us were taking a family bike ride along the Mississippi River, with our 70-pound dog in tow in the baby Burley. (I realize this is not normal.) About halfway into our ride, we approached a clearing that looked like the perfect spot to skip rocks and let the dog out for a swim. There were houses on one side of the bike path, which we steered clear of, but the land on the river-side of the path appeared to be common property.

 

That’s where we were dreadfully wrong.

 

As soon as we hopped off our bikes and headed toward the river, an older man came storming out of his house. “Git off my property!” he shouted. He laid into us, one by one, ranting about trespassers and threatening to call the police. Then he got right up in my face. “If I came over to your house and started walking on your lawn,” he shouted, “what would you do?”

 

I blinked and, without thinking, replied, “Well, we’d probably invite you over for dinner.”

 

I’m not sure who was more surprised—Mr. Crotchety Old Man or me. But all at once, the anger spewing out of him dissipated. On his way back to the house, he looked over his shoulder. “There’s a park thatta way,” he said, pointing.

 

One of the most surprising things about grace, I’m learning, is its reciprocal nature. When you’ve been graced yourself, that grace has a tendency to overflow onto someone else.

 

David had experienced truckloads of unwarranted favor from God over the course of his life. He started out as a nobody—a poor shepherd with no future to speak of. Yet he was the one God chose to anoint as king; his was the family God chose for the lineage of the Messiah.

 

For all his royalty and stardom, David never forgot where he came from. Here’s his response to the covenant promise the Lord made to him:

Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And now, Sovereign Lord, in addition to everything else, you speak of giving your servant a lasting dynasty!
—2 Samuel 7:18-19

It doesn’t seem coincidental that just a couple of chapters later we see David taking the grace that was poured out on him and sharing it with the one person everyone else thought should have received his wrath.

The former king, Saul, had spent much of his reign been trying to kill David, running him out of the country, and generally making his life miserable. Yet after Saul died, David went out of his way to find his enemy’s one living descendant—not to seek revenge, but to show him kindness for the sake of his friend Jonathan.

From that time on, Mephibosheth ate regularly at David’s table, like one of the king’s own sons.
—2 Samuel 9:11

David showed Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth the ultimate grace: he invited him to dinner.

May there always be room at our table for the grandsons of our enemies. And for crotchety old men.

 

***

Question: Who do you need to invite over for dinner today?

 

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

 

Graceful Remembering May 11, 2012

Filed under: 2 Samuel — Stephanie Rische @ 7:53 am
Tags: , ,

At a conference I attended recently, I heard a firsthand account of graceful remembering. An author named Margot Starbuck told the story of her childhood and her quest for the Father-love she never had from her earthly fathers.

Margot experienced the double whammy of abandonment early in her life, having been given up for adoption as a baby and then having her stepfather succumb to alcoholism and leave the family when she was a young girl. These abandonments from the very people who were meant to reflect the parental love of God sent her on a desperate search for the true nature of God’s love, which she chronicles in her memoir, The Girl in the Orange Dress.

What struck me most when I read Margot’s story wasn’t so much the tragic nature of her memories, but what she left out.

She never shies away from the truth or the pain of what she went through, and she doesn’t excuse her father and her stepfather for their absence. But the focus in her remembering is on the way she grew from her losses and the mysterious good God brought out of them. She offers both men the kind of forgiveness and grace they don’t deserve. But then again, that’s what grace, by its very definition, is all about.

I was equally amazed when I read the funeral song David wrote for his nemesis, King Saul. David had been nothing but faithful to Saul all his life, fighting for him, defending his honor, protecting him against assassination attempts. By way of thanks, Saul tried to kill and him and then drove him out of the country.

And yet this is how David remembered Saul after his death: 

How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan!
They were together in life and in death. . . .
Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen!
—2 Samuel 1:23, 25

I imagine David hadn’t forgotten all the evil Saul had inflicted on him when he was alive. But when it came to his final reckoning, David chose to remember with grace rather than bitterness.

Just as Margot did.

Surprisingly, Margot told us that her book has served as a reconciliation tool of sorts between her and her dad. Her father, the very one she wrote about abandoning her, now gives her book to just about everyone he meets.

How beloved and gracious, indeed.

 

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.