Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

The Wind in My Sails August 21, 2013

Filed under: Grace,Unexpected Lessons — Stephanie Rische @ 8:17 am
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“Wanna know what this bucket is for?” the seasoned sailor asked, throwing a pointed glance in my direction.

 

He was taking us out in his sailboat on Lake Michigan, and I was the only one in the group who had never been sailing before. Apparently he was afraid I’d be green in more ways than one.

sailboat3

 

I did my best to laugh, desperately hoping I wouldn’t need the bucket.

 

Then it was the sailor’s turn to laugh. “Oh, this bucket isn’t for you—it’s to clean up the deck afterward!”

 

On the way to the boat, we were regaled with sailing stories—about the time his boat flipped over in gale-force winds, the time the fog was so dense he couldn’t find his way back to the dock, the time he was several miles from land in the middle of a lightning storm. I was feeling queasy already, and we hadn’t even set foot onboard.

 

I tried to prep myself for every possible scenario. But when we finally got out onto the water, we encountered the one situation I hadn’t envisioned: everything was utterly still. I held my face up to the sky but couldn’t detect so much as a hint of a breeze.

 

There we were, sitting in the middle of the huge lake—normally filled with cresting whitecaps but on that day looking as smooth as glass. The sails hung limp and lifeless above us.

 

The sailboat boasted every possible gadget you could imagine—a GPS that told you exactly where you were in relation to your destination, a gauge that read the temperate both in the air and in the water, a sensory device that detected the depth of the water and how many fish were camping out beneath the surface. But none of it mattered if we couldn’t leave the shoreline. We had no manmade gadget that could perform the function of the wind. (Although my husband, funny guy that he is, tired his best to fill his lungs and blow on the sails in an attempt to create some action.)

sailboat1

 

It turned out to be a lovely, if anticlimactic, afternoon on the water. But as we basked in the sun and ate a picnic lunch on the idle boat, it got me to thinking about the Holy Spirit, of all things.

 

The Bible often uses wind as a metaphor to describe the way God works. Like the wind, a tiny puff of his breath has power to set us in motion, to move us forward, to change our course. We may not be able to see him, but there’s no denying it when we’re in the wake of what he’s doing.

 

Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind . . . so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things.

—Ecclesiastes 11:5

 

Our boat outing revealed a nautical and spiritual truth: if God’s Spirit isn’t breathing power into a venture, no amount of huffing and puffing on my part will make it move.

 

The breath of God isn’t something we can control. But we can be ready for it—we can embrace it when it comes. His breath is a gift of movement, a gift of direction, a gift of power. Ultimately, it is the breath of grace.

 

sailboat2

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The Gift of Pain January 11, 2013

Filed under: Unexpected Lessons — Stephanie Rische @ 12:33 pm
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The other day started out with one of those crazy mornings. I had to switch the cars to get mine out of the garage, then I had to do some interesting maneuvers to back the cars—both of them—around our neighbor’s SUV on one side and the recycling bins on the other. To add insult to injury, half the world was cozy in bed, still on winter break, while I was scraping off the car in the icy darkness. And to top it all off, I was running late.

 

It was in the midst of these mental distractions that I slammed my car door. With my finger still in it.

 

finger

 

It was strange because I didn’t feel a thing at first…and that’s what made me most nervous. Surely the top of my finger had been severed at the knuckle.

 

My pain-free bliss lasted about ten minutes into my commute, when suddenly I felt the most intense throbbing I’ve experienced since dropping a jumbo-sized bottle of hot sauce on my big toe in the third grade. Yep, my finger was still there all right. It was also bleeding profusely into my mitten.

 

But in the midst of my grumbling and complaining, this thought struck me with such force that I felt compelled to say it aloud: “The pain means my finger is still there. The pain means I’m very much alive.”

In his brilliant book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Pain as God’s megaphone.

In the past year there have indeed been moments when my heart felt like it had been slammed hard in the car door, and it throbbed like the dickens (for more on that, take a look here). For the most part I nursed my wounds, grumbling and complaining, scheming about how to anesthetize the pain as quickly as possible.

 

But what if Lewis was right? What if those times when we experience pain are actually God’s way of getting our attention? What if the pain is an indication not only that we are indeed alive, but also that something may be off kilter in our lives?

 

Without pain, we keep going through life on autopilot, utterly distracted. But pain snaps us into focus, helps us reprioritize.

 

We don’t have much choice about when the pain comes, but we do have a choice about what we’ll do with it. Will we numb out as quickly as possible, thereby missing what God may be trying to tell us through the pain?

 

Next time I get slammed in the proverbial car door, I pray I’ll listen. I pray the megaphone will get my attention.

 

megaphone