Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Once Upon a Time, I Wore a Pretty White Dress… August 14, 2012

Filed under: Isaiah — Stephanie Rische @ 1:41 pm
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One year ago today, my dad walked me down a tree-lined aisle toward a little clearing, where all the people I loved most were singing an a cappella version of “Be Thou My Vision.”

I knew, in theory, that the wooden arch ahead of me had been lovingly draped with tulle and calla lilies by my family. I knew that Pastor Tim was standing at the front with his trusty Bible and a smile on his face. I knew that somewhere in the front row my mom was bawling and that Grandma was snapping roll after roll of pictures.

But I couldn’t see any of that. I could only see one thing: the vision of my handsome groom standing at the end of the aisle. He was beaming so wide I thought the grin would burst off his face. And he was looking right at me.

 

Whenever I was asked before the wedding, I assured people that I wasn’t the crying type, and I was confident I wouldn’t need my waterproof mascara. But the moment my eyes locked on my husband-to-be, I was overcome with all the meaning wrapped in that single moment—how it was the culmination of so many hopes and prayers, how God had given me much more than I’d been asking him for, how all the waiting had been worth it.

As I looked at Daniel’s face, I told myself, Freeze this moment. Take a mental picture right here, right now. Never forget this.

 

 

Since that day, Daniel’s love has continued to give me new insight into the way God loves his bride. It’s not an obligatory love; it’s a love that is basked in delight.

 

The Lord delights in you

and will claim you as his bride….

Then God will rejoice over you

as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

—Isaiah 62:4-5

 

God’s love, in other words, beams so wide it is liable to burst off his face.

If you are doubting today whether God loves you, lift up your head and look at his face. He is standing there at the end of the aisle, just waiting for you walk toward him. See the delight in his smile, and know that he rejoices over you.

You are his beloved, and he has eyes only for you.

 

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.

 

On His Hand August 11, 2012

Filed under: Isaiah — Stephanie Rische @ 9:38 am
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Not long ago I had the privilege of spending the afternoon with joy personified—joy that goes around in the form of a seventh grader named Becky.

According to doctors, Becky has an extra chromosome—Down syndrome. Although I’m not familiar with all the medical implications that go along with that diagnosis, I would agree that Becky does have something extra. But in my books, the extra that stands out most is her joy.

When my husband and I went on a walk with Becky and the rest of her family on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I suddenly saw the world through fresh eyes—eyes of wonder and pure delight.

Where I might have walked right past a swampy bog, Becky had her eyes peeled the whole time, certain that at any moment she’d see a turtle sunbathing on a rock. Where I saw a field of weeds, Becky squealed with delight and promptly gathered a dandelion bouquet for me, including some to be tucked behind each of my ears.

 

 

Skipping with happiness on the way home, she looked at me with a grin that lit up her entire face. “Can I hold your hand?” she asked.

And so I walked the rest of the way back with both hands full, one with a yellow bouquet and the other with joy herself.

Later that evening we all sang hymns together, led by Becky’s older sister, Hannah, on the piano. Hannah asked for requests, and after a few selections, Becky piped up, “Let’s do my favorite! ‘Before the Throne’!”

I was a bit chagrined to discover how rusty I am on my hymns, and I wasn’t sure I could even pull out a tune for that one. So as the song started, I just sat back and listened.

Before the throne of God above

I have a strong and perfect plea…

 

As I looked around the room, my gaze fell on Becky. She sat perched on her chair, her face beaming and her legs swinging to the music. To my amazement, she knew every word of the song. I listened as she belted out the next line:

My name is graven on His hand

My name is written on His heart

 

Just last week I came across a startling statistic: some 90 percent of women who find out in prenatal testing that their baby will have Down syndrome choose abortion. As we sang, I couldn’t help but think of the extra joy Becky’s family would have missed if she’d never been born—the joy all of us would have missed.

Can a mother forget her nursing child?

Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?

But even if that were possible,

I would not forget you!

See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.

—Isaiah 49:15-16

As I looked at Becky’s face, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sing, even if I managed to dredge up the tune. Not with a lump the size of a small turtle in my throat.

I closed my eyes, and a vision flashed through my mind—of God’s big hand holding the hand of a smiling seventh grade girl. She gives him a bouquet of hand-picked dandelions, and as he reaches out to take them, I notice that he has a tattoo on his hand. Right there on his palm is etched the name of his beloved child. Becky.

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.

 

That’s Not Fair! August 7, 2012

Filed under: Isaiah — Stephanie Rische @ 1:32 pm
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My sister is eight years younger than me, which gave me a tactical advantage over her for a good four years (after which point she started keeping pace with me in every quantifiable way). But at some point before she wised up, when she was old enough to appreciate having money in her piggy bank but young enough to be lacking some key fiscal principles, I used the age gap to my advantage.

We had just met one of Dad’s friends, Roger, who had collected a massive bag of loose change from his car and given it to us. Jackpot! As the oldest, I took it upon myself to distribute the money among the three of us kids. After all the coins had been split evenly, inspiration struck.

“Meghan,” I said, “wanna trade?” She looked at me skeptically. “I’ll give you all my big bronze coins for your little silver ones.” She agreed, and my plan worked flawlessly…until we got home and Meghan dashed inside to share the news of her trades with Mom. At that point Mom ordered all the pennies and dimes to be swapped back, along with an “abuse of power” tax from my stash.

The truth is, trades tend to be sketchy business. As adults, we are wary of the inevitable catch; we know that the other person is in it for what they can get out of the deal.

As I read Isaiah, I’m amazed how many times God talks about trades that will take place when he comes to redeem his people. From a human perspective, God’s trades seem too good to be true. We bring God everything we have, but even our best offerings are worthless. And yet God doesn’t hesitate to take our ugly things on himself and give us the good things that are in his hands—things of beauty and great value.

In the book of Isaiah, we read about God’s mind-boggling trades—the gifts he gives us in exchange for our worthless things:

*Gold for bronze

*Silver for iron

*Bronze for wood

*A crown of beauty for ashes

*Blessing for mourning

*A double blessing instead of shame

(See Isaiah 60:17 and Isaiah 61:3.)

 

We hand him our sin, and he gives us salvation. We give him our brokenness, and he gives us healing. We extend our unworthiness, and he bestows on us his grace.

I was at a Vacation Bible School event for fifth and sixth graders recently, and they were singing—or more accurately screaming—the words to this song as they ran and danced around the sanctuary:

I’m trading my sorrows

I’m trading my shame

I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord

I want to have that same kind of boundless joy as I remember the trade God has made with me. It was the ultimate unfair trade. In an unprecedented move, the one with the power took the loss himself… and gave us everything instead.

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.

 

The Stephanie Sandwich August 4, 2012

Filed under: Isaiah — Stephanie Rische @ 10:27 am
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When I was a kid, our church had one of those “harvest festivals,” where you have all the candy and fun parts of Halloween, minus the ghosts and witches. Rumor had it the main attraction would be the giant cardboard-box maze that would cover the entire church basement. My little brother and I were ecstatic.

 

My mom volunteered to help coordinate the event, so we went to church with her for the afternoon. While she decorated and prepped food, Kyle and I scoped out the maze. It was even more colossal than we’d dreamed, with countless twists and turns and dead ends. Even so, we felt up to the challenge. After all, I was pretty big stuff now that I’d turned double digits.

 

Things were a little dicey at first. We took one wrong turn after another until we had no choice but to break out of the boxes and stand up to get our bearings in the fluorescent-lit basement. We pressed on until we finally made our way to the end of the maze. Once we had the route down, we practiced it tirelessly for the rest of the day, and by the time Mom was ready to take us home to change into our costumes, we were confident we could make it through blindfolded, maybe even backward. Not that I was one to brag.

 

But when we came back later that evening, somehow everything looked different. The basement was pitch dark, with strobe lights flashing and creepy music blaring, interspersed with recorded shrieks and laughter. I mustered up an internal pep talk, reminding myself that I’d completed this maze dozens of times that very day. And besides, as the older sister, I had to put on a brave face in front of my brother.

 

We got in line and anxiously awaited our turn. When we got to the front of the line, the chaperone asked if we were sure we wanted to do this. His doubt only increased my resolve. Of course I was big enough to do this! I took hold of my brother’s hand, and we ducked into the maze.

 

We were only a few steps in before I decided there was no way this was the same maze we’d practiced earlier that day. Surely someone had rerouted the whole thing while we were home changing! I would never have admitted it out loud, but I was more terrified than I’d been in my entire decade of living.

 

Despite my big-sister bravado, I knew it was time to admit defeat. Kyle and I backed out to the starting point and went to bob for apples.

 

Then a family friend, a high schooler, came to our rescue and volunteered to take us through the maze. I was skeptical at first, seeing as I was still a bit rattled by the whole experience. But he assured me we could make a train: I would hold on to his ankles and Kyle would hold my ankles. We’d be in this together. And so we made it through the maze, with Kyle as the caboose and me sandwiched in the middle.

 

Sometimes the scariest thing when we’re up against a difficult situation isn’t the situation itself but feeling like we’re facing the blackness and creepy noises alone. We reach out in front of us, and we can’t see a thing. We glance over our shoulders, and it seems like an empty wasteland from behind. We feel exposed, vulnerable to attack.

 

After Israel was captured and exiled to Assyria, they felt that same sense of abandonment and isolation. But through the words of the prophet Isaiah, God reminded them that they weren’t alone.

 

Get out! Get out and leave your captivity….

You will not leave in a hurry,

running for your lives.

For the Lord will go ahead of you;

yes, the God of Israel will protect you from behind.

—Isaiah 52:11-12

 

God promised to go both ahead of his people and behind them. As they crawled through the dark, scary places, they could hold on to his ankles, knowing he would guard them from anything that jumped out in front of them or snuck up from behind.

 

Whatever dark mazes you’re facing today, may you know that God goes before you to guide you. Behind you to protect you. And that you are sandwiched safely in the middle.

 

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.

 

Trashed July 31, 2012

Filed under: Isaiah — Stephanie Rische @ 7:52 am
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My husband, Daniel, has the heart of an artist. By that I don’t just mean he can turn an ordinary piece of paper into something beautiful with just a brush and some paint, or that he has an eye for what will be aesthetically pleasing. (Although he’s a master at both.) No, his true artistry shines through in the way he views his creations.

I love seeing the final product of something Daniel has made, but what brings me equal enjoyment is hearing about the entire artistic process—from the conception of the idea (often in a series of drawings in his sketch book) to the rough template to the final revision, with just the right colors. I relish watching Daniel’s eyes, bright with boyish animation, as he takes me through each stage of the process. He beholds his finished creation with an almost fatherly mix of pride and tenderness.

Daniel’s job isn’t specifically art related, but he still finds occasion to put his creative skills to work there. Recently one of his projects was to design a greeting card on behalf of his company, which was a success by all counts.

Several months later, when the office was having a clean-up day, Daniel happened to walk by the trash can. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted an unmistakable color scheme, a familiar fold of paper. He could tell immediately that it was one of his cards. Who knows how it ended up discarded—if it had been damaged somehow or if it had gotten misplaced with a stack of papers—but regardless, it had somehow been thrown away.

When Daniel saw his creation trashed, his first instinct was the same as any true artist’s: he wanted to rescue it. It grieved him to see his beloved creation tossed aside, devalued. The person who originally put it there may have thought it was trash, and everyone who passed by afterward may have considered it worthless too. But not its creator. He wanted to see what he’d made being used for the purpose it was intended for. He was ready to dig into the trash can himself—to rescue the card, to smooth out its crumpled edges. To redeem it.

As I read the book of Isaiah, I’m struck by the number of times the prophet uses the word redeem. One of the most frequent names for God in the book is Redeemer, and the word redeem shows up in some form more than twenty times.

All this redemption talk makes sense, I suppose, knowing the context—that Israel was on the cusp of defeat and exile by their enemies. The Assyrians saw them as so much trash, while the other countries around them barely batted an eyelash at their demise. If ever a people needed redemption, it was the Israelites—God’s chosen people.

Though you are a lowly worm, O Jacob,
don’t be afraid, people of Israel, for I will help you.
I am the Lord, your Redeemer.
—Isaiah 41:14

 

Maybe right now you find yourself in the trash can, like Israel did thousands of years ago. Maybe someone said something that made you feel worthless, devalued, unloved. Or maybe it was through pure neglect that you find yourself feeling forgotten, pushed aside. And perhaps along the way no one has stopped to pull you out of the rubbish, to smooth out your creases, to get you back to what you were meant to be.

But I am here to tell you that in God’s eyes you are not trash; you have utmost value. Your Creator sees you there in the trash, and it shreds his heart. And what does he do in response? He rolls up his sleeves and digs into the trash himself. He enters our world, knowing we can’t get out of this mess ourselves.

In all their suffering he also suffered,
and he personally rescued them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them.
He lifted them up and carried them
through all the years.
—Isaiah 63:9

Because of Christ, you don’t have to stay in the trash. Because of Christ, you can be used for the purpose we were made for.

He has personally redeemed you. All because he is your Creator, and you are his beloved masterpiece.

Writer’s Note: This blog was co-written with Daniel Rische.

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.

 

A Wasted Feast July 24, 2012

Filed under: Isaiah — Stephanie Rische @ 1:16 pm
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For an assignment during my freshman year of college, I was required to watch a film called Babette’s Feast. I wasn’t happy about it—partly because it was a foreign film with subtitles (with nary a Leonardo DiCaprio to be found) and partly because I had to watch it in the library (which meant popcorn was out).

But somewhere before the final credits starting rolling, I got sucked into the story. There were no flashy special effects, and the plot was minimal. But I couldn’t help but get swept up by its undercurrent of grace—shocking, wasteful grace.

The movie is set on a remote island in Denmark, and the cast of characters consists of aging adherents of a strict religious sect. Their lives are sparse: they eat simple meals of fish and broth, and their days are marked by pious activities like caring for the poor and meeting to sing hymns and pray. There is no drinking, no dancing, no dating. No fun.

Babette is the loyal servant of two of the sisters who live on the island. No one knows much about her past, except that she misses her beloved homeland of France. Babette watches silently as the community begins to fracture, succumbing to petty squabbling and in-fighting. On an otherwise ordinary day she receives a letter from home and discovers she has won the lottery. Ten thousand francs—enough for her to go back to France and retire comfortably.

As the community prepares for a celebration honoring their founder, Babette makes one request: she’d like to prepare a feast for the celebration. The people are horrified—they never share meals at their gatherings. Much less French meals! What if the feast turns out to be of the devil and leads them into sin? But since it’s the only thing Babette has asked for in all her years there and they know she’ll be leaving soon, the members concede. Privately, however, they promise they won’t say a word about the meal.

The day of the celebration arrives, and Babette serves a five-course meal that would be beyond extravagant by any standards, let alone for sheltered island people whose diets formerly consisted of nothing but fish and broth. They have no idea what to make of the likes of gourmet turtle soup, caviar, Cornish hens, amaretto cake, fine French wine, and champagne.

True to their word, however, they say nothing about the food, even as their eyes widen in surprise and veiled delight. But something interesting happens as the evening progresses. As their mouths fill with bite after bite of each exquisite dish, old wounds start to dissipate. Bickering is gradually replaced with kind words and warmth.

When the meal is over, Babette splashes water on her face, exhausted but satisfied, seemingly oblivious to the lack of praise she received for her feast. The sisters address Babette sadly, knowing that now that the celebration is over, she’ll be heading back to her homeland.

“Oh, no,” Babette says. “I won’t be going back. I don’t have any money.”

The sisters look at each other, utterly baffled. Didn’t Babette just cash in the check for the 10,000 francs?

Gradually realization dawns. Babette spent all the money—every last penny—on the celebration feast. Ten thousand francs, wasted on people who didn’t know they were getting the finest meal by the finest chef Paris had ever boasted. Ten thousand francs, wasted on people who never even said thank-you.

It’s interesting to note that one of the common pictures God paints when depicting his goodness and favor is a feast. In the midst of the prophet Isaiah’s talk about God’s judgment, he describes this scene of a shared meal:

In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will spread a wonderful feast
for all the people of the world.
It will be a delicious banquet
with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.
There he will remove the cloud of gloom,
the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.
He will swallow up death forever!
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.
—Isaiah 25:6-8

I am not, after all, so different from the guests at Babette’s feast. By human standards, grace is wasted on the likes of me. My palate is so accustomed to blandness that I can’t grasp the extravagant gift I’ve been given—a gift that cost the giver everything. And even I could somehow comprehend the sacrifice, I certainly wouldn’t be able to express adequate appreciation.

But in the beautiful mystery of grace, God invites me to his feast anyway. No doubt it will be a delicious banquet. But even better than the menu will be the one who has prepared it with such love—and with the ultimate sacrifice.

 

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.

 

God’s Favorite Preposition July 5, 2012

Filed under: Isaiah — Stephanie Rische @ 4:50 pm
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  One of the highlights of my seventh grade year was learning the Preposition Song in Mrs. Eaton’s language arts class. (I do realize how lame that sounds, but hey, it was seventh grade. It was a rough year.) Every day during our grammar unit, the whole class would belt out the prepositions to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”:

Aboard, about, above, across
Against, along, around….

 

I confess that I still sing the song on occasion. You know, when I’m sitting around pondering parts of speech.

 

I’ve always loved the name used for the promised Messiah in Isaiah 7: Immanuel. God with us. It evokes mental images of starry skies over Bethlehem, peaceful Nativity scenes of Mother and Child. But as I take in the events surrounding Isaiah’s prophesy of Immanuel, I’m struck by the rather desolate context. Israel and its kings had been going their own way ever since the end of King David’s reign, defying God and disobeying his commands. God was warning his people in no uncertain terms that if they didn’t turn their hearts back to him, they would face the consequences.

 

Watch out, because now the Lord’s fierce anger has been turned against you!

—2 Chronicles 28:11

 

Isaiah described the coming judgment in bleak terms: Israel’s enemy Assyria would invade their country. Their land would become a place of famine and desolation. And ultimately they would be taken captive and exiled to enemy territory. It’s into this sober visual that Isaiah promises the coming of Immanuel.

 

In other places in the Bible, God is described with a number of other prepositions:

God above us (Job 31:2)

God before us (Psalm 90:2)

God beyond us (Psalm 147:5)

God for us (Romans 8:31)

 

But when God announces the Incarnation—his revelation in human form—he describes himself as with his people. Not just above us. Not just before us. Not just beyond us. Not just for us. But with us. Facing our struggles with us. Standing against the enemy with us. Going through the years of desolation and hopelessness with us.

 

When I find myself in a difficult season, I admit that at times I long for other prepositions. I want God to take me out of it. I want to be through it. I want to be over it. But God gives me something messier, more involved. He dives in and enters my world, even in the hard places. Especially in the hard places. He gives me the best preposition of all: Immanuel.

 

God is with us.

 

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.