Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

What My Two Favorite Toddlers Taught Me about Faith November 20, 2012

Filed under: Mark — Stephanie Rische @ 9:04 am
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If I were to imagine how Jesus would describe how we need to come to him, I might expect any number of analogies. Maybe we should come to him like a scholar, eager to study and learn more about him. Or as a martyr, passionate and ready to follow him, even to the point of death. Maybe we should we come as a theologian, with all the right answers. Or as a hero, full of bravery and triumph.

 

But no . . . Jesus says we should come to him, of all things, like a child.

 

In the past when I’ve read Jesus’ words about coming to him childlike, I had a sort of fuzzy notion that he was referring to innocence and dependence. And while that may be part of the picture, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s more to it than that.

 

I recently had the auntly delight of spending a few days with my four-year-old niece and my two-year-old nephew, and thanks to them, the whole notion of childlikeness is no longer theoretical. Here are some things Lyla and Tyler taught me about how Jesus wants us to come to him.

 

1. Ask questions. Lots of them.

At four, Lyla is at the stage where she’s taking the pieces of her world and trying to make sense of them. “Why can’t Aunt Eppie play with me instead of going to work?” “Why won’t they let the birdies at the zoo fly?” “How come Grandpa Joe can use potty talk and I can’t?” “What does canoodling mean?” We tend to assume that faith means not having any questions, but maybe it just means we’re secure enough in the relationship to ask the hard questions.

 

2. Trust your dad.

When we went to the pumpkin farm, Tyler delighted in freefalling off the hay bales into my brother’s arms, utterly confident his dad would catch him. Where I would have been screaming in terror, he giggled in delight. He knew his daddy wouldn’t let him down. And it left me feeling convicted: why don’t I trust my Father that way?

 

3. Find joy in the right-now.

As adults, we get bored easily, always ready to move on to the next thing. But Tyler followed Fermi the dog around endlessly, squealing in delight every time he was on the receiving end of a slobbery doggie kiss. As for Lyla, she’d say, “Tell me a story!” some eighteen times a day, never tiring of the yarn-spinning, even when my stories started sounding suspiciously like recycled fairy tales. Can I see the good gifts God has placed in my life, or am I always looking ahead, wishing for the next thing?

 

4. Be close to the people you love.

Lyla was my little shadow for a couple of days, which was just fine with me…except when it was time to use the restroom. “Aunt Eppie, why do you have to shut the door when you go to the bathroom? Why do you need your pribacy?” Restrooms aside, it warmed my heart to know that this precious child wanted to be near me. And I have to wonder…does God wish I would be a little more eager to follow him around?

 

I have no doubt Jesus had the likes of Lyla and Tyler in mind when he gave this mini sermon about childlikeness:

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.

—Mark 10:13-16

 

I want to receive the Kingdom of God that way. Like Lyla and Tyler, I want to come to God with my tough questions. I want to trust him with utter abandon. I want to bubble over with joy at the little gifts he brings into my life. I want to be as close as possible to the God I love.

 

I want to come to him with my whole heart.

 

The way a child does.

 

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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Healing of the Slow Variety October 30, 2012

Filed under: Mark — Stephanie Rische @ 8:11 am
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Two people I love are struggling with physical ailments right now—the kind where doctors can’t quite figure out what’s going on and recovery is agonizingly slow.

 

I’ve been praying for a miracle for them—a miracle of the quick variety. There is some precedent for these kinds of speedy healings in the Bible. Many times throughout the Gospels, Jesus puts his hand on someone and brings instant recovery. The deaf hear. The blind see. Pick up your mat and go home. 

 

 

After reading story upon story in the Gospels when Jesus merely says the word and a little girl is healed, or a woman touches the hem of his garment and is immediately restored, I was a bit surprised by Mark’s account of a blind man who was brought to Jesus for healing:

 

Some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged him to touch the man and heal him. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?”

The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.”

Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly.

—Mark 8:22-25

 

Why, I wonder, did Jesus have to touch the man’s eyes twice before he could see clearly? No doubt Jesus had the power to heal in one fell swoop if he’d wanted to, as he’d done on numerous occasions in the past. So what was different this time?

 

I can only venture guesses as to why. Maybe the gradual healing was for the blind man’s sake. Maybe he was able to more fully appreciate his sight when it was unveiled to him one step at a time. Or maybe the phases of healing were so the blind man could share his unique story afterward.

 

I recently had the privilege of hearing Steve Saint speak. This once active man, the founder of the nonprofit ministry I-TEC, spoke to my company via Skype from his bed, where he has been confined for the past several months. In June of this year, he was injured by a piece of equipment he was testing, leaving him an incomplete paraplegic.

 

 

Steve is currently in the agonizing process of relearning the most basic of skills—figuring out where his hand is and then trying to make it move. People around the world are praying for a miracle for him, but at this point it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the one-step instantaneous type of miracle. It looks like for him, healing may come in stages.

 

But as difficult as this process must be for him and for his family, I am struck by the extraordinary testimony Steve has to tell as a result. It’s one thing to remain faithful to God when he does the quick miracle and you’re back to life as usual. It’s another thing altogether to proclaim God’s goodness while you’re flat on your back, struggling to swallow your own saliva.

 

“The church in America is used to serving out of a place of strength,” Steve said. “But now I’ve been given a gift. I’m learning what it means to serve out of my weakness.”

 

At the end of his talk, Steve shared the words of a poem called “The Thorn.” He knows now, in a whole new way, what it is to be a mendicant, a beggar, before God’s throne.

 

I stood a mendicant of God before His royal throne
And begged him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
I cried, “But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me.”
He said, “My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.”
I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace,
He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.

—“The Thorn” by Martha Snell Nicholson

* * *

Lord, we are beggars, every one of us. We beg you for healing, whether it comes in a moment or a lifetime. In the meantime, give us the story you want us to tell—and the courage to tell it.

 

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.

 

Come as You Are October 16, 2012

Filed under: Mark — Stephanie Rische @ 8:13 am
Tags: , ,

When I was a kid, my favorite room in the house was the formal living room, for one simple reason: there was no furniture in it—just cushy white carpet and lots of space to cartwheel to my heart’s content.

 

The only thing in the room was a shelf with Mom’s Precious Moments collection in the corner. The rule was that I could do as many tumbling stunts as I wanted to, as long as I was careful not to veer into the corner and knock over the Precious Moments.

 

I was on a roll one day, going for a record number of cartwheels in a row, when I heard the stomach-churning sound of shattering glass. I looked down and, to my horror, saw that one of Mom’s beloved figurines had shattered into a pile of pointy shards.

 

There was no way I could tell Mom, I decided. I needed to fix this first. My initial stroke of genius was to reconstruct the figurine with tape, but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to work. The next obvious choice: I’d simply make her a new one. I snuck outside to gather twigs for the figurine’s arms and a little rock for the face, figuring I could paint the features on later. But as I tried to stick it all together with Silly Putty, I burst into tears. No paint job was going to salvage this sucker.

 

 

And so I did the only thing left to do: I went to Mom. I confessed. With lip quivering, I held out the handful of glass pieces and the lumpy-looking attempt at a replica. The hard truth was, I knew I’d never be able to pull it all together on my own.

 

As I’m reading the Gospels, I’m struck by what a ragtag band of followers Jesus had. These people who left everything to follow Jesus weren’t the spiritual elites of their day or the morally polished crowd. They didn’t have it all together. They were, in fact, in various states of mess.

 

There the fishermen (Luke 5:1-11), who got little respect in their culture—likely the rabbinical school dropouts. There were the tax collectors—the sleazy guys who ripped off their own people to get a bigger cut for themselves (Matthew 9:9). And there were the women of questionable reputation who didn’t do much for Jesus’ image (John 4).

 

When the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

—Mark 2:15-17

 

These people didn’t try to put themselves together before they came to Jesus; they knew that would be as futile as a child refusing to confess until she fixed the pricey collectible she’d broken.

 

I love that God doesn’t ask us to pull our act together before we come to him. We come as we are, and he changes who we are.

 

As I see myself in this lineup of people who came to Jesus, with their hands full of the messes they’d made, I’m reminded of one of the verses of the old classic hymn “Come Ye Sinners”:

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

 

If we wait to come to Jesus until we’re better, until we have our act together, we’ll never come at all.

 

When I went to Mom with the broken pieces of her figurine, she hugged me and extended forgiveness to me. Here she was the one who had been hurt, but she was consoling me. When we come to God in repentance, he does the same for us. He wraps us in his arms and wipes away our wrongs. And he alone can put the precious pieces back together again.

 

Today, if you find yourself compelled to try to clean yourself up before you come to God, I encourage you to take your mess and come to him. Just as you are. And know that he will accept you. Just as you are.

 

I beg you, do not tarry till you’re better.

 

Come now. Come as you are.

 

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.