Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Beauty in the Dying November 13, 2012

Filed under: Matthew — Stephanie Rische @ 5:04 pm
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I was walking through the woods the other day with a million things on my mind—making mental to-do lists, replaying recent conversations in my head, worrying over the usual things I have no control over. Then I glanced up for a moment and literally stopped in my tracks, right there in the middle of the path.

 

My jaw came unhinged as I took in the sight. Fiery maples, golden elms, and burnt-orange oaks melded together in a kaleidoscope of colors just in front of me. The October-blue sky peeked out from behind the trees, and the sun shone a spotlight onto the autumn-hued rainbow.

 

I couldn’t help but think about the quote by that endearing redhead, Anne of Green Gables: “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” (Don’t ask how many times I’ve read the books and watched the PBS special. Suffice it to say, often times enough to quote liberally.)

 

As I stood rooted to the spot on the trail, a cyclist whizzed past me, no doubt annoyed I was blocking the path, but my feet were rooted to the spot. The scene was so beautiful I ached. Partly because I couldn’t hold all that beauty inside of me. And partly because the thing about fall is you know it can’t stay.

 

Then a rather morbid thought occurred to me: the leaves are beautiful because they are dying. Their chlorophyll is slowly leaking out, no more sustenance is going their way, and the trees are slowly shutting down the processes of life.

 

We think of death as the worst-case scenario. But we rarely stop midstep to acknowledge the beauty that often accompanies it.

 

Jesus, in his usual upside-down way, made this counterintuitive statement:

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.

—Matthew 10:39

 

My grandpa was just in the hospital again. He and Grandma have been planning their 90th birthday bash for some time, and now it’s just weeks around the corner. They have a guest list that’s fitting for a couple as charming and delightful as they are—200 of their closest friends, their dozen children, and a slew of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 

Thankfully, Grandpa is home from the hospital now. He’s a pretty tough guy, and just stubborn enough (having 12 kids will do that to you) that I have no doubt he’ll be raring to go by party time. But Grandpa’s recent stint in the hospital was one of those moments that stopped me in my tracks, causing me to reflect, autumn-style, on his life.

 

As his strength on this side of eternity fades, his faithfulness for all these years—to his wife of 60-plus years, to his family, and to his God—blazes all the brighter. His life is an example of the beauty that can come with endings. The knowledge that his time here is wrapping up only directs a spotlight on those lovely, shining parts of his character.

 

If I hope to ever have a life that blazes like Grandpa’s, I first have to die to my own way of doing things, to my own agenda. Because it’s only when I surrender that I can embrace the beautiful life Jesus offers. It’s only by dying that I truly live.

 

Thanks for your life, Grandpa. Thanks for the beauty. It’s going to be one grand party.

 

How beautifully leaves grow old,
How full of light and color are their last days.
—John Burroughs

 

 

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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The Upside-Down Kingdom October 12, 2012

Filed under: Matthew — Stephanie Rische @ 8:12 am
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When I babysat for a family of four as a teenager, the worst and best part of the evening was bedtime. It was the worst for obvious reasons (elaborate stalling techniques, skirmishes over which bedtime story we’d read, and the usual accusations of “You’re not the boss of me”).

 

But my favorite part was prayer time just before bed. One by one the kids would go through the litany of people they loved, asking God to bless each one: “Please bless Mommy and Daddy, bless Nana and Grandpa, bless Brother and Sister, bless Baby Doll and my Beanie Babies.” All those blessings may have been part of the kids’ grander stalling scheme, but it was charming nonetheless.

 

I like to think my prayer life has progressed a bit beyond asking God to bless a laundry list of people, but I confess I still do a similar grown-up version, asking God to bless the people I love with health, happiness, security, steady jobs, good relationships. For smooth sailing, really.

 

Our version of the Beatitudes—of what it means to be blessed—would probably go something like this:

Blessed are those with enough money.
Blessed are those who are happy.
Blessed are the confident.
Blessed are those who stand up for their rights.
Blessed are those without major problems to speak of.

 

But when Jesus came, he flipped everything upside down. His description of true blessing runs exactly opposite of what we’d expect:

Blessed are the poor…
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are the humble…
Blessed are the merciful…
Blessed are those who are persecuted…
—Matthew 5

 

Jesus sees our troubles and longings here on earth, and he cares about those things. But he knows those surface-level concerns aren’t our deepest needs. While we focus on the here and now, he is looking at the eternal. He has his eye on who we’re becoming.

 

I love the words to Laura Story’s song “Blessings.” She poses the question, What if the trials we face are really God’s best blessings?

 

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things…

 

What if the trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?

 

Thank you, Lord, for loving us too much to give us merely what we ask for. Bless us, yes, but bless us with your blessings, not the watered down version we think we want.

 

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.