Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

The Summer Day August 27, 2013

Filed under: Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 12:07 pm
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Last weekend my husband and I escaped to a charming bed and breakfast along the Mississippi River to celebrate our anniversary. The town itself isn’t much to speak of—it has seen better economies, better days, better centuries even. But Ed and Sandy, the owners of the B&B, have created a little sanctuary right there in the heart of the town—a place of respite amid the busyness of life.

 

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After a breakfast of pancakes loaded with plump blueberries, hot coffee with real cream, and fresh sweet strawberries, Daniel and I sat on the huge wrap-around front porch, serenaded by the songbirds and gurgling fountains that grace the property. Butterflies flitted from flower to flower, apparently as enticed by the aroma of the purple phlox as we were.

 

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Then Daniel pulled out his guitar started playing right there on the front porch, and as the morning sun filtered through the trees onto my neck, I wished I could bottle the moment and keep it all year. Summer in a jar.

 

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At one point Daniel looked over at me and noticed that my book was uncharacteristically closed on my lap. I was just sitting there, silent, taking it all in.

 

“What are you thinking about?” he asked, no doubt concerned I’d slipped into a food coma after all those pancakes.

 

I couldn’t quite put it into words. But Mary Oliver captures the moment in her poem “The Summer Day.”

 

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

 

Sometimes prayer is about structure and discipline and articulate words. But sometimes it’s simply learning “how to be idle and blessed.” Sometimes prayer is sitting on the front porch soaking in this wild and wonderful world God has made.

 

Sometimes prayer is just paying attention.

 

So as summer slips into September and kids don backpacks and the days start taking shortcuts toward dusk, I want to take time to seize these final summer days. I don’t want life to slip by as I rush through my busy to-do list.

 

This summer day, this gift from God—what will I do with it? What will I do with this one wild and precious life?

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Thin Places August 13, 2013

Filed under: Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 4:01 pm
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There are some moments when the curtain between heaven and earth flutters open slightly and we are able to get a peek into the other side. Such was the case for me on a Saturday I won’t soon forget.

 

My mom and I went to visit my childhood pastor and his wife, who have also become family friends over the years. They moved into a retirement facility last year, and not long after they settled into their new place, Pastor Bob’s Alzheimer’s progressed to the point that Ruth could no longer take care of him. He now lives in a separate wing in the same facility, where he gets round-the-clock care from nurses, not to mention daily visits from Ruth, who feeds him, does his laundry, holds his hand, and talks to him, even though he no longer knows her name and can’t form coherent words in response.

 

Ruth and Bob celebrated their anniversary the week before our visit. “Sixty-four years,” she says, her eyes sparkling. Her face becomes animated as she recounts the story of their whirlwind engagement. They’d been dating for a number of years, but in those years just after the Second World War, housing was nearly impossible to find. Then one day Bob’s dad saw a farm he just had to have and bought it on the spot. He asked Bob if he would farm it. Would he!

 

Bob wasted no time rushing to Ruth’s apartment, taking the stairs three at a time.

 

Excitedly he announced, “We can get married!”

 

Ruth stared at him in amazement. “When?”

 

“Two weeks should work.”

 

“Two weeks?” Her mouth fell open. “Impossible!”

 

They compromised. Three weeks.

 

“My poor mother!” Ruth says with a laugh. “Only three weeks to plan a wedding—and just before Christmas, at that!”

 

Then a shadow comes over Ruth’s countenance. “I married a man,” she says. “And now I have a little boy.”

* * *

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Sitting around Ruth’s dining room table, eating spice cookies off gold dishes and sipping sparkling pomegranate juice, we hear the update on Bob—how he no longer seems to recognize his children, how this man who had once made a living communicating is now essentially nonverbal. He can make sounds, but everything comes out in gibberish. Ruth isn’t sure if he always recognizes her, but often when she enters the room, he reaches out his arms, like a child who wants to be picked up and loved.

 

“It’s difficult,” Ruth says, “what with his apparent loss of memory about his life and his walk with the Lord.” Other than a rare whisper of “Thank you, Jesus” or “Praise the Lord,” or the time he hummed the entire tune of “Children of the Heavenly Father,” the faithful man she once knew is now mostly locked inside.

 

As I reach over and grab her hand, I think about how fine that line is separating heaven and earth. And I cling to the hope that in this fuzzy in-between place, where human bodies crumble and memories fail, God never forgets us: “I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you” (Isaiah 44:21).

 

* * *

After lunch we go down to the Alzheimer’s wing to visit Pastor Bob. I thought I knew what to expect, but there’s no real way to prepare for finding someone so drastically changed. This once articulate man, so full of energy, always ready with a joke or a story or a theological conundrum, can’t even say hello.

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Mom and I share fond memories with Pastor Bob, mostly for Ruth’s benefit. As we sit there, a flood of memories washes over me—Pastor Bob praying over me at my confirmation, the way he led our congregation in prayer before church potlucks, the way he always remembered to pray for the sick and the shut-ins. And I wondered, Who is praying for him now that he’s the one who’s sick?

 

Without thinking, I say, “Pastor Bob, can I pray for you?”

 

And for the first time that visit, his entire face beams. His eyes connect directly with mine, and he offers me his widest grin.

 

I don’t even know what comes out of my mouth in that prayer—I’m sure my own words are little more than gibberish. But it doesn’t matter. God understands what both our hearts are saying.

 

The early Celtic Christians had a name for the times when the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted. Thin places, they called them. According to one Celtic saying, heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places, that gap narrows and we are given a peek into God’s glory.

 

Later that afternoon, when Mom and I get in the car to head home, we stare at each other, trying to take in all we were witness to that day.

 

“I feel kind of shaky,” Mom tells me, and I agree.

 

A thin place indeed. Who wouldn’t feel shaky when you’re standing at such a small gap between heaven and earth?

 

***

Epilogue: Between the time of the writing and the posting of this piece, Pastor Bob passed through that thin place. He is now face-to-face with his Savior, with no veil between him and his Savior.

 

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

—Søren Kierkegaard

 

What Do You Want? March 12, 2013

Filed under: Faith,Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 8:18 am
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longing1It’s the kind of question I might expect at the McDonald’s drive-through, but not from God himself:

 

What do you want?

 

According to Scripture, however, God is quoted as saying exactly that—once in the Old Testament and in one scene in the New Testament.

 

When Solomon became king, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and asked him a single question:

“What do you want?”

—1 Kings 3:5

 

When Jesus met a blind man begging along on the road, he posed the same question, verbatim:

“What do you want?”

—Mark 10:51

 

It’s intriguing that an omniscient God would ask the question at all—surely he knows the hearts of all people and doesn’t need to ask. And in the blind man’s case, wasn’t the need pretty obvious?

 

Our deepest longing—that one thing we desire above all else—exposes who we really are. And that kind of soul-nakedness is downright scary.

 

But perhaps that’s the very reason God wants us to name it, to ask for it. There’s something about saying the request out loud that makes it realer in our hearts. There’s something about forming our desire into words and tasting it on our tongues that brings it to life.

 

In other words, maybe the request isn’t for God’s sake but for our own.

 

What about you? If God appeared to you and you could ask him for one thing—just one thing—what would you ask him for? Wisdom? Vision? Healing? Wholeness? Would you ask him to fill a void in your life? Or to restore something that was lost?

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What is it that you want more than anything else?

 

There’s no guarantee God will give you that thing you ask for. But I can promise you this: God delights in hearing your deepest, nakedest requests. For it’s often in that vulnerable space that we get something more than we bargained for: we get God himself.

 

God, of thy goodness, give me Thyself;
for Thou art enough for me,
and I can ask for nothing less
that can be full honor to Thee.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever shall I be in want,
for only in Thee have I all.
―Julian of Norwich

 

 

A Soft Place to Land February 7, 2012

Filed under: Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 7:55 am
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For one hour every Tuesday, no matter how wildly the storms of life are howling around me, I have a soft patch of grass to land on. Every girl should be so lucky.

It all started rather bumblingly, to tell you the truth. My friend and I were both feeling the need for someone to pray with, but we didn’t quite know how to go about it. I mean, really, who wants to intentionally set themselves up to be vulnerable and self-conscious on a weekly basis? Besides which neither of us felt like particularly good pray-ers, and I for one knew I’d never be able to deliver organized “bullet-point” prayers. My requests, such as they are, tend to come more in the form of rambling emotional spew than neatly packaged prayer points.

But God was hounding us, and we couldn’t seem to escape the idea. So one Tuesday we started meeting during our lunch hour. We unceremoniously told God that our end of the deal would be to show up, and he would be responsible for the rest.

That first meeting was precisely two years ago, and we’ve been meeting every week since.

Over the past 100 or so Tuesdays, my prayers haven’t really gotten better. I’m still rambly, still unpolished, still haphazard (and un-bulleted) in my approach. But to my surprise, my friend accepts me, rambly prayers and all. Even better, I have found through this messy process that God isn’t necessarily looking for polish either. I don’t think he minds that we put our prayers out there in their rawest form, trusting that he’ll sort them out somewhere between here and his ear.

So wherever you are in your prayer journey, I encourage you to take a leap and find your own Tuesdays-at-noon buddy. I trust you’ll find the landing cushioned by grace.