Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Advent Prayers December 21, 2012

Filed under: 1 Corinthians,2 Timothy,Romans — Stephanie Rische @ 12:01 pm
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As I read Paul’s letters to the early churches, I’m uncovering an intriguing thread I never noticed before. I’ve heard plenty about Paul’s deep theology, his sometimes controversial teachings, his practical instructions…but I guess I’ve never thought much about his prayers.

 

Oh my word, his prayers.

 

Paul opens just about every letter to the early churches with heartfelt prayers for them, and let me tell you, this guy was a praying powerhouse. His words are filled with faithful requests, soaring blessings, and most of all, extravagant thanksgiving.

 

A few cases in point:

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you.

—Romans 1:8-9

 

I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus.

—1 Corinthians 1:4

 

I thank God for you….Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

—2 Timothy 1:3

 

I am a prayer novice at best—or more aptly, a prayer slacker. When I read Paul’s prayers, I am reminded just how milquetoast my prayers are. I ask God to bless my loved ones, and I come to him on their behalf when they’re in some kind of pain or trouble. But how often do I spend time just thanking God for them?

 

During Lent, my husband, Daniel, and I prayed for one person or family each day leading up to Easter (you can read the story here). It was such a rich experience that we wanted to find a way to mark the Advent season too. So each evening before dinner, we toss aside the bills and junk mail to find the Christmas cards and letters and photos we received from friends and family that day. Then we pray for those people.

 

I confess that our prayers don’t come close to Paul’s stirring masterpieces, but maybe God doesn’t mind so much. And while we’ve always enjoyed our loved ones’ updates and pictures, there seems to be a deeper layer to it this year. I have to wonder if this prayer habit just may be opening our eyes to how much we have to thankful for.

 

Thank you, God, for my grandparents, who once again got their letters written, addressed, and mailed while I was still eating Thanksgiving leftovers.

 

Thank you for boy #4 for our friends this year, and for the impish joy on all those kids’ faces.

 

Thank you for little Allie, with her dad’s brown eyes and her mom’s sparkly imagination.

 

Thank you for Emery, the miracle baby who was born this year—the bubbly, smiling, rolling-over answer to so many prayers.

 

Thank you for Lauren and her annual quotables (“Now that my room is clean, I can stop, drop, and roll if there’s a fire—and not get hurt!”).

 

I don’t say it enough, but thank you, God, for the people you’ve put in our lives. Help me to keep saying thanks all year, even after all the Christmas cards are put away.

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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.

 

Blue Christmas December 11, 2012

Filed under: Romans — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
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This holiday season, amid the refrains of joy and decking the halls, I keep hearing echoes of loss and separation. I’m sure it’s always been there; maybe I’m just more aware this year.

 

A friend is spending her first Christmas without her mom following a long battle with cancer. The hole she left behind still gapes, and somehow the Christmas music blaring over store loudspeakers sounds tinny and hollow this season. Another friend is figuring out to get into the holiday spirit now that she’s separated from her husband by an ocean and a nine-month assignment in a place where IEDs are as common as inflatable lawn ornaments. And I think of my friend Ruth, who is separated from her husband by the chasm of Alzheimer’s disease. This is the 61st Christmas they’ve spent together, but the first one when Bob doesn’t know her.

 

Maybe it’s the twinkle of lights or yet another chorus of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” but for whatever reason, the sting of separation seems even more poignant now than it is the other 11 months.

 

Until this year, I’d never thought of Romans 8 as a particularly Christmasy passage. But when you come down to it, Christmas is God’s answer to our longing for a love that will always stay with us. A love that will never be separated by oceans or war or distance or betrayal or disease or death.

 

When God sent Jesus to our world, it was his way of saying, “This is my gift to you: my love in human form.” Love that is unconditional, inseparable, unchanging, never-to-be-lost.

 

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

—Romans 8:38-39

 

This Christmas, whether you find yourself with the ones you love or feeling far away for any number of reasons, know that nothing can ever separate you from God’s love. Nothing.

 

You may even want to take a moment under the twinkling lights to fill in this verse with the things that threaten to color your Christmas in shades of blue. As you do, I pray you will be filled with the assurance that none of these things are a match for God’s love.

 

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither _____ nor _____, neither _____ nor _____, neither our fears about  _____ nor our worries about _____—not even the powers of _____ can separate us from God’s love. No power in heaven or in hell—indeed, nothing in all _____ will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

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 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.

 

Double Blessings Day December 7, 2012

Filed under: Romans — Stephanie Rische @ 8:12 am
Tags: , , , ,

 

double blessing

In the movie The Odd Life of Timothy Green, a young couple longs for a baby but remains unable to conceive. They dream up their ideal child, writing down descriptions of him and then burying the slips of paper in their backyard. They wake up to find a 10-year-old boy claiming to be their son, who by the looks of the leaves sprouting out of him, has grown straight out of the ground. It seemed to me a rather ludicrous premise for a movie…that is, until Double Blessings Day.

 

My friends Heather and Rick have been wishing and hoping and praying for a baby for six long years. After several miscarriages, failed infertility treatments, and adoptions that fell through (you can read more about their story here), they finally got the phone call they’d been waiting for. I’ll never forget walking into their house for a party one evening to find Heather with an irrepressible grin on her face. After leaving me in suspense for a while, she said, “Come here—I have something to show you.” She pulled out her phone, and there on the screen was a picture of a tiny baby boy wrapped in a blue blanket.

 

On cue, my eyes welled up. “Is this really…?” I could barely get the words out. After so much heartbreak, it hardly seemed possible. “Is he…yours?”

 

Heather nodded and grinned wider, but before letting me squeal and give her a hug, she said, “Wait, there’s more.” She flipped to the next picture, and suddenly I had no air left to project my squeal. There on her phone was another tiny bundle. This one wrapped in pink.

 

“Twins!” Heather’s smile broadened into a full-fledged beam. “The adoption papers won’t be final for a few months, but we can take them home from the hospital as soon as they gain a couple pounds.”

 

In that moment I had the surreal sense that even if these babies hadn’t grown out of the ground, maybe they’d been somehow been prayed into existence.

 

***

 

It’s been several months since the babies came home to Heather and Rick, and on the day they all went to the courthouse to sign the papers to make the adoption official, they threw a party for everyone who had prayed and hoped alongside them for the past several years. They called it Double Blessings Day. The day their son and daughter officially took their name and legally became theirs, although they’d loved these little bundles even before they’d met them.

 

As I held Claire and Alex on the evening of the blessings party, I thought about the significance of the names Heather and Rick had chosen for them. Claire: bright and clear. Alex: helper of mankind; defender of the people. Indeed, I saw a bright future ahead for both these little ones. I envisioned how the extravagant love of their parents would lead them on a path of serving and defending others as well. And now they officially had Heather and Rick’s last name—including a signed piece of paper that proved they belonged to them; they were their forever family.

 

It’s no wonder Paul used the metaphor of adoptive parents to paint the picture of God’s love for us:

You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”

—Romans 8:15-16

 

When we are adopted in God’s family, he gives us a new name: Son. Daughter. Beloved child. Redeemed one. But it hadn’t occurred to me before that once our adoption is finalized, he gets a new name too. Abba. Daddy. This fierce, magnificent God, unapproachable in his holiness, humbles himself, taking on the role of our Daddy. He loosens his tie, changes out of his work clothes, and gets down on his knees to play with us.

 

That’s what kind of Daddy we have. One who not only does the work of making our adoption official and bestowing on us his name, but who also throws a party to show the world how happy he is to have us in the family. One who loves us as his very own sons and daughters.

 

Thanks, Daddy.

 

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.