Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Surprise Me! October 29, 2013

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:03 am
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I love going places with my sister where there is ordering of any sort involved. That’s because almost without fail, when she places her order, she drops the line “Surprise me” at some point in the conversation.

 

If she’s getting a cappuccino and the barista asks what flavor she’d like, Meghan will give her trademark dimpled grin and say, “Surprise me!” If she’s ordering a salad and is offered various dressing options, her response is the same: “Surprise me!” If I’m getting her something to drink out of Mom’s fridge, I can almost guarantee her refrain will echo once again: “Surprise me!”

 

I always stare at her, wide eyed. “What if you get something you don’t like?”

 

She just flashes a grin at me and shrugs. “That’s part of the fun of the surprise.”

 

Me, I’m a planner. I like to map it all out, write a script. I cling to the illusion of control. Truth be told, I’d rather do the surprising than the being surprised.

 

But this sister of mine, she lives with her arms wide open. She embraces life, holds out her hands to accept the surprises God has for her, just the way she does with her coffee.

 

So when the time approached for Meghan’s baby to born, I should have expected that this surprise-loving sister of mine would make room for as many surprises as possible.

 

“Girl or boy?” I asked over the phone, breathless, after her ultrasound.

 

“We’re going to be surprised!” she said, and I could hear the smile in her voice.

 

“What names are you thinking about?”

 

“We’re keeping it a surprise!”

 

And of course, the details of the birth itself were a surprise. Two days before her due date, Meghan went to the doctor. “You’re progressing right along,” he said. “It should be any day now.”

 

But the next day nothing happened. And nothing the next day either, or the day after, or the whole week after.

 

And then, ten days past her due date, just when the doctor was ready to speed things along, surprise! The baby decided to make a grand appearance. And the new mom and dad unwrapped their surprise package right there in their hospital room…a little gift of a girl named Addie Mae.

 

addie4

 

And when I first looked into the face of that sweet surprise, I wondered what other surprises God might have up his sleeve. What do I miss out on when I try to make the plan and script it all out myself?

 

This little girl, this eight-pound bundle, she is teaching me already. Her life whispers, as soft as breathing, This is life! This is joy! This is a whole new world of divine surprises.

 

addie1

 

So here I am, God, with my eyes squeezed shut and my arms wide open. Surprise me.

 

addie2

 

Passing on the Good Story October 8, 2013

Filed under: Faith,Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:03 am
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robin4I had the privilege of writing for Pick Your Portion recently. Here’s what I shared about my grandmother’s unexpected gift . . .

 

 

Last weekend the women in my family got together to celebrate the upcoming birth of my sister’s baby. We don’t know the name or the gender yet, and we don’t know this little one’s hair color or personality or special talents. But one thing is for certain: this baby is already incalculably loved.

 

We sat around the living room sipping raspberry punch long after the shower was over, telling stories about Meghan as a baby and retelling family lore—about sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings. At one point I just sat there looking at all the beloved faces, trying to let the moment soak in. There were four generations represented in that room—my grandmother, my mom and a smattering of aunts, my sister, and the baby we were eager to meet.

 

robin1The guests had been asked to bring a book they’d loved as children, and the selections were a delightful mix of classic and modern, serious and fanciful, playful and deep. Then Meghan opened the last gift, unobtrusively tucked in a small bag at the back of the pile. As soon as she revealed the contents, the room drew in a collective breath.

You can read the rest of the story here.

 

 

 

 

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

 

Shine September 6, 2013

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
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{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?}

shower1

 

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.

 

shower3

 

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.

 

shower2

 

The Gift of Presence June 17, 2013

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 1:12 pm
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Dad #1crop

 

When I was fifteen, I decided to exchange my gymnastics leotard for a basketball jersey. There was just one little problem (and I do mean little): I was barely four foot eleven, with shoes on.

 

I practiced hard that season, but whenever game time came, I warmed the bench. With the rare exception of a major blowout, my sub-five-foot frame didn’t see any action on the court the moment the game clock started.

 

But my dad . . . my dad was at every game. Every. Single. Game. He’d leave work early and sit up in the bleachers with my mom, still in his dress shirt and tie. All so he could watch me warm the bench.

 

When I came out of the locker room with the team before each game, I’d find him in his usual spot—left side, near the back—and he’d flash our family’s secret signal, which, roughly translated, meant, “Hey, I see you. I’m here.”

 

He was there, even though we all knew I wouldn’t be out there shooting or dribbling or passing or doing any of the other things he’d been helping me with in our hoop out back.

 

And he was there after each game for his trademark “postgame talk” when I was feeling discouraged after yet another four quarters of not even taking off my warm-up jacket.

 

“We’ll keep practicing,” he told me. “Just wait—you’re going to be a starter one of these days.”

Dad #2crop

 

***

 

Right around that time, I found myself plunged into the waters of teenage awkwardness, and along the way, I started losing track of how to connect with my dad. I was self-conscious in my own skin, clumsy about hugging him, so we mostly exchanged fist bumps instead. I didn’t quite know how to talk to him about the things that made up my world either—friend drama, boys, how I was trying to sludge through this new space to figure out who I was and where I fit in. How could we show love to each other surrounded by so much awkward?

 

But Dad found a way. I’m sure I didn’t realize what was happening back then, but each time he showed up, each time he watched me sit the bench, he was giving me a rare gift: the gift of presence. He was there, and there said, “I love you.”

 

***

 

All through the next summer, Dad coached me as I relearned my basketball shot. It was brutal at first, but he was right—it paid off. My senior year, when they announced the starting lineup for my team, there was a new jersey out on the court—number ten, measuring in at barely five feet tall. When they called my name, I ran out onto there, shoes squeaking on the hardwood, my eyes scanning the stands for one face.

 

He was there, of course. I flashed Dad the trademark family signal and grinned to myself. I’d been wishing for this moment for a long time, but when it arrived, I realized that what I’d needed most had been there all along.

 

“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Sometimes love is complicated, multilayered. Sometimes it means having deep talks and hashing everything out. But other times love is simple. Sometimes love is just showing up.

 

dad and me

So Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for teaching me how to shoot a basketball. Thanks for watching all my games. Most of all, thanks for always showing up. (And by the way, I didn’t get you anything for Father’s Day, so please consider this your gift.)

 

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.

heet2

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.

heet1

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.

heet3

 

A True Story of Love and War and 67 Years February 19, 2013

gpa planeThe year was 1946. The Nuremburg war trials had begun. Wartime price controls were being lifted in the United States. And America’s boys were slowly trickling back from the war…including the tall, dark-haired Lieutenant Voiland, having defied the odds and survived countless bombing missions on the European front.

 

His fiancée, Cay, had been waiting and praying anxiously, day by day, month by month, year by year, longing for her sweetheart to come home. She’d been planning their wedding while he was gone—the ultimate act of hope in the midst of a war in which half a million men who left never returned. With her trademark spunk, she refused to let the scarcity of silk prevent her from having a wedding dress, so she arranged to have a dress made from the unlikeliest of sources (I wrote about the remarkable story here).

 

For most of my life, I assumed Grandma and Grandpa’s February wedding date had been scheduled around Valentine’s Day. Whenever we gathered to celebrate as an extended family, we marked the occasion with red decorations and a heart-shaped cake, and I never heard anything to indicate otherwise.

 

It was only recently that I discovered their wedding date was determined not by Valentine’s Day but by Ash Wednesday.

 

“Ash Wednesday?” I asked Grandma. The dots weren’t connecting for me.

 

“Things were stricter back then,” Grandma said. “You couldn’t get married during Lent.”

g and g wedding

Of course—Lent. The church took seriously this 40-day period of sacrifice, fasting, and repentance, and it was not the time for weddings and feasts.

 

Grandma winked at me. “I’d been waiting long enough,” she said. “I wasn’t about to wait until after Easter!”

 

And so, on a Tuesday morning, just a day before Ash Wednesday, they squeezed in a simple ceremony at the campus chapel. I’ve always been enchanted by the lone black-and-white photograph of Grandma and Grandpa on their wedding day: Grandma looking beautiful and big eyed in that one-of-a-kind gown, and Grandpa, serious and handsome as ever in his classic suit.

***

This year Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday fell one day apart from each other, just a week before my grandparents’ 67th anniversary, and I was struck by the tender intersection of these sacred occasions: Valentine’s Day. A much-anticipated wedding. Ash Wednesday. Lent. An anniversary marking almost seven decades of marriage. And it got me to wondering: maybe Ash Wednesday is the perfect backdrop for a wedding after all. Valentine’s Day offers fine sentiments, of course—an appropriate reminder for us to express our love each year. But real love may be more aptly captured by a day marked by sacrifice and surrender and the choice to lay down one’s life.

 

Grandma and Grandpa know this well. The war showed them the cost of love from the very beginning: the agonizing separation—both by an ocean and by endless days, when the only threads connecting them were their love and a string of handwritten letters. And just because the war ended, that didn’t mean the sacrifices did. With the ratio of one income to 12 children, they sometimes had more month than they had money.

 

And now, as my grandparents are in their golden years, they are dealing with the sacrifices of caring for each other’s needs as their bodies and minds aren’t quite what they used to be.

 

But if you asked them about the cost of love, they’d likely look at you with a bewildered shrug. That’s just what love does. It’s the very nature of love to give, to sacrifice, to lay down one’s life for one’s beloved.

 

And that is, after all, what we celebrate during Lent. This season marks the greatest romance of all time: the Savior who sacrificed everything to show us his love. The one who fought courageous battles on our behalf. The one who laid down his life for the ones he loves.

 

Love and Lent. Perhaps they’re more connected than I realized. G&G

 

So happy 67th anniversary, Grandma and Grandpa.

 

And happy VaLENTine’s season, everyone.

***

If you’d like to read more about my grandma and grandpa’s love story, including how Grandma’s dress was passed down to two more generations, check out my aunt Annie’s story here.