Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

At the Intersection of Weeping and Joy September 28, 2012

Filed under: Ezra — Stephanie Rische @ 12:13 pm
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I fell in love with Daniel over a steaming bowl of Pad Thai.

It was our second date, and he had done his homework. He knew I loved Thai food, and he’d scoped out the perfect spot—a cute little restaurant near my house called Bistro Thai.

As we chatted over our watermelon juice (one glass, two straws), I was struck by all the things we had in common and how blue his eyes were and how he could make me laugh and how blue his eyes were. Did I mention how blue his eyes were? Still, I was telling my heart to take it slow.

I knew I was in trouble, however, when Daniel pulled out the big manila envelope, saying he had a surprise for me. Could this be what I thought it was?

By way of background: Somewhere between date #1 and date #2, Daniel and I had exchanged some playful banter that went something like this: he found out I did some writing and asked if he could read something I’d written. I made an offhanded comment that he’d have to give me some equally sensitive information in exchange, such as, say, embarrassing childhood photos. The conversation moved on, and I thought that was the end of it.

But sure enough, Daniel contacted his dad, eight hours away, who secured an envelope full of embarrassing childhood photos and delivered them to Daniel in time for date #2. (I later found out his dad had stayed up until 1 a.m. scrounging through shoeboxes for all the best pictures.)

As Daniel and I pored over the photos, with the scent of peanuts and cilantro mingling in the air, it was official. I was smitten.

And so every year since, to mark the anniversary of our first dinner at Bistro Thai, we’ve gone back and ordered the same thing, reminiscing about the now-famous photo incident.

Last week my friend was visiting, and I decided to introduce her to my favorite little restaurant. As we walked up to the building, a series of observations came to me one at a time, in isolation, leaving me somehow unable to process them as a unit. Strange, I thought, there’s nobody here. Followed shortly by, The front window is completely gone! And then, Hey, why is there a big orange notice on the front door?

I realize there are real tragedies in the world, like when people lose their houses and everything they own in the wake of a hurricane, or when people are displaced from their families and homelands due to the ravages of war. But in that moment, the “For Lease” sign in the window of our restaurant felt like a state of emergency. I suppose it was partly sentimental, but maybe it was also a microcosm of those grander losses in life—that sense of remembering what once was and knowing that as hard as you try, you can never quite go back to the way things once were.

The book of Ezra recounts the significant event when a wave of Israelites returned from exile and started rebuilding their beloved temple. After it had sat in ruins for 70 years, there was much to celebrate as the new foundation was laid:

“He is so good!
His faithful love for Israel endures forever!”

Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid.

But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.
—Ezra 3:11-13

Maybe you’ve lost something precious to you—perhaps a place, a relationship, or a dream has been stripped away—and you know that things will never be the same again. Even if, by some miracle, that sacred place is rebuilt or the relationship is restored or the dream is redeemed, you know in your heart that it will never be as glorious as the original version. And when that happens, when you’re standing on the rubble of the old and on the cusp of the unknown, I think the only thing to do is weep it out.

More and more I’m realizing that life doesn’t usually come at me one tidy emotion at a time—weeping for a season, then joy for a spell. No, it’s usually tangled together in a messy jumble—“joyful shouting and weeping mingled together,” as with the Temple round two.

One day there will no longer be a need for a Temple of any kind, because Christ himself will be the Temple (Revelation 21:22). In Christ, we have the hope that one day God will bring restoration and redemption on a grander scale than we can even imagine. But until then, there just may be times when our weeping and our joyful shouting will swirl together, heavenward, in a loud noise.

Meanwhile, I’m holding my breath that one day there will be a new restaurant where Bistro Thai once was. Maybe, despite the loss, it will also be the foundation for something new. Something full of joy.


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.