Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

The Knife September 24, 2013

In my role as an editor, I’ve been dubbed “The Knife” by a few select people. It may sound a bit harsh at first, especially since if you know me, you know I don’t enjoy inflicting pain. (Case in point: as much as I love bacon, I’ve been known to go vegetarian at pig roasts because I can’t bear the thought of eating little Porky once I’ve seen his face.)

 

But there’s something to the nickname, because ultimately an editor is a surgeon . . . someone who identifies the parts that are sick, decaying, or sucking the life out of a manuscript, and then ever so carefully removes them. For some manuscripts, this looks like major amputation, followed by the grafting-in of new content. Other manuscripts require the use of a smaller knife for more intricate incisions.

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As gentle and careful as a surgeon might be, there’s no getting around it: the knife hurts. It’s never pleasant to have a part of yourself sliced into or lopped off. But the alternative is worse. It’s better to have someone who cares about you do surgery than to let the infection worsen and potentially creep to other parts of the body (or manuscript) as well.

 

Lately I went through the eye-opening experience of having the tables turned. Instead of the knife being in my own hand, this time I was on the receiving end of the edits. And you know what? It hurt to be on the operating table. But in the best possible way. That’s how it feels when you hear truth from someone who loves you. Good hurt.

 

Wounds from a sincere friend

are better than many kisses from an enemy.

—Proverbs 27:6

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As in manuscripts, so it is in life. Although there’s a part of me that wants to bury my head in the sand and hide my vulnerable places in front of others, deep down I really want to know my weak spots. I want someone to gently point out my blind spots. It’s the only way I know to grow.

 

Right now I’m reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, and she talks a lot about the power of making ourselves vulnerable before others. “Courage,” she says, “starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

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Maybe you don’t need a literal editor or a surgeon right now, but in what ways do you need to show up and let yourself be seen? Where do you need to let down your guard? Where do you need to allow other people speak truth into your life?

 

If we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. . . . To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.

—Brené Brown

 

If we’re going to grow and dare and live brave, then we need to put ourselves on the operating table every once in a while . . . and entrust our friends with the knife.

 

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On Priests and Awkward Moments September 4, 2012

Filed under: Jeremiah — Stephanie Rische @ 12:06 pm
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Last weekend my husband and I attended the baptism of our friend’s son. The service was held at a beautiful Catholic church surrounded by lush gardens and buildings with high-vaulted ceilings. Daniel and I arrived early (a phenomenon that is new to me since getting married), and we decided to explore the grounds a bit before the service started.

At one point I looked over my shoulder and noticed that the priest was following us and discreetly trying to get my attention. He was offering pointed looks in Daniel’s direction, but I couldn’t seem to catch his meaning. Finally he got bolder and motioned right toward Daniel’s derriere.

My first thought was, Yes, he does have a nice butt. But that just didn’t seem like the kind of thing you say to a priest.

Finally he came closer and whispered to me, “Um, I think you should take that off his pants.”

I looked down, and sure enough, there was the fresh-from-the-store sticker running right down the backside of Daniel’s corduroys. Awkwardness abounded.

Once I stopped giggling long enough to remove said sticker, it hit me that sometimes awkward is the best thing that can happen to us. Isn’t it better to have someone correct you gently—and early on—than to keep going through the day with a sticker on your behind? Whoever said that ignorance is bliss obviously never looked in the mirror to find spinach lodged between their teeth or their skirt tucked into their tights.

On a spiritual level, the same is true. We desperately need the very thing we dread most—the moment of correction.

When God holds up the mirror to us and shows us where we’re falling short, it immediately brings a flush of shame to our cheeks. But wouldn’t we rather have it that way? Better for God to point us in the right direction now, while we can still peel off the sticker. Before we do any more permanent damage.

Jeremiah voiced a similar sentiment about God’s correction:

I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own.

We are not able to plan our own course.

So correct me, Lord, but please be gentle.

Do not correct me in anger, for I would die.

—Jeremiah 10:23-24

What I love about the prophet’s description here is the way he describes God’s correction as coming from a place of gentleness, not anger. Not unlike that kindhearted priest, perhaps.

Whether you find yourself on the giving end or the receiving end of correction at the moment, don’t be scared to walk straight into the gentle awkwardness. It’s the only way for us to get right again.

But the next time you leave the house, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone check your backside, just in case.

 

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.

 

Why I’m Trying to Embrace the Cattle Prod June 22, 2012

Filed under: Ecclesiastes — Stephanie Rische @ 12:14 pm
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My friend Cheryl has three hobbies she’s passionate about: playing with her cat, Frisky; listening to music by Bebo Norman; and going to the doctor.

Cheryl was born with an extra 21st chromosome, commonly known as Down syndrome. She is also one of the most social, personable individuals I know. To know her is to be her friend. The moment you walk in the room, her whole face lights up in a huge grin. Not content to just sit next to you, she’ll likely take your hand and, with that wide smile of hers, say, “I like you.”

So I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she enjoys visits to the doctor. After all, everyone in the office knows her name, gives her attention, and ultimately has her best interests at heart. Although some parts of the visit may be painful, she knows that all this is necessary so she’ll feel better in the long run.

I was thinking about Cheryl when I came across these words in the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon’s final collection of writings:

The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep.

—Ecclesiastes 12:11

Words of wisdom, as the wise Solomon knew, can be as painful as a cattle prod. Having someone speak truth into our lives can be as piercing, as uncomfortable, as being corralled by a shepherd, given a shot by a doctor.

Unlike Cheryl, I don’t like doctor visits. More often than not, I’d prefer to remain in blissful ignorance. If there’s no diagnosis, then there won’t be any uncomfortable prodding. And perhaps most of all, there’s no need for change.

I’m afraid I’m often the same way when it comes to words of truth and accountability too. I prefer to stay in my place of comfortable oblivion rather than subject myself to the cattle prod of wisdom.

Not long ago Cheryl had surgery to alleviate some chronic back pain she’d been dealing with. While she was recovering, a relative told her, “Now, Cheryl, you need to make sure you take care of yourself so you don’t have to have another surgery.”

A look of sheer disappointment fell over Cheryl’s face. She went into the corner by herself for a few minutes, arms folded as she pondered. Finally she returned to the living room, where her family was gathered.

“I thought about it,” she said, “and I decided I can get another surgery if I want to.”

Oh, Cheryl, if only I were more like you—more open to the cattle prod. I have a feeling I’d be healthier…and a whole lot wiser too.

 

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.

 

Four Feet Off the Ground May 18, 2012

Filed under: 2 Samuel,Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 4:43 pm
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My first summer job as a teenager was as a gymnastics coach at the YMCA. I was in charge of the Beginners class, which ranged from four-year-olds in pint-sized leotards to junior high girls who had watched the Summer Olympics and been inspired by the likes of Shannon Miller and Kerri Strug.

Invariably the girls were enamored with the tumbling mats and the uneven bars. They loved somersaulting and cartwheeling to their hearts’ content, and they delighted in swinging on the bars. But there was a consistent nemesis for these budding gymnasts: the balance beam.

I couldn’t blame them. Here they were supposed to walk on a four-inch slab of wood four feet off the ground—and most of their heads didn’t even reach the top of the beam! But the fact remained: if they were going to pass the class and advance to the next level, they’d have to make it from one end of the beam to the other. All by themselves.

I’ll never forget the five-year-old twins in my class: tow-headed girls named Zoe and Chloe. Chloe had successfully completed each requisite for the class and had her certificate proudly in hand, marking her promotion to Advanced Beginners. But her blue eyes got big when a realization struck: her sister hadn’t walked the beam yet.

My progression for teaching this particular skill went like this: first, I’d have the girls walk on a line on the floor to show them that four inches was wider than they thought. Then when each girl got up on the beam, I’d keep pace alongside her, holding her hand each step of the way. When I was confident the gymnast was ready, I’d send her on her first solo attempt.

Zoe had the skills to conquer the balance beam, and she knew exactly what she needed to do. But she was facing an obstacle more daunting than the four-foot apparatus in front of her: a mental one. As soon as I’d let go of her hand, she’d look at the ground below, and all she could think about was how far she had to fall. But here’s the thing about walking four feet above the ground: if you want to make it to your destination, you have to keep your eyes up. Otherwise you’ll lose balance, perspective. And that’s when you’re destined to fall.

Reading the account of David’s affair with Bathsheba is a bit like watching those Olympic gymnasts on the balance beam. You hold your breath, knowing a misstep could result in the catastrophic loss of everything they’d worked so hard to achieve.

Perhaps the worst part about David’s story is how oblivious he was to his fall at first. Despite his status as a man after God’s own heart, he didn’t confess straight away—not after Bathsheba turned up pregnant, not after he received word that Uriah had been killed on the front lines of battle. It wasn’t until the prophet Nathan confronted him, boldly calling him on his sin (2 Samuel 12), that he finally broke down and repented.

His heartbreaking cry for mercy is recorded in Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
—Psalm 51:1-2

As humans we have a tendency to embrace a cheap imitation of grace, interpreting it as an excuse to brush off sin or downplay its consequences. But Scripture presents a clear pattern: repentance and godly sorrow first, then mercy.

On the last day of the gymnastics class, I looked at Zoe. “Okay, kiddo,” I said. “Today is your day.”

She got onto the beam, her little knees knocking. Then, instead of standing beside her, I went to the far end of the balance beam. “Keep your head up,” I told her. “Just look at me.” Step by step she inched forward, her eyes never leaving mine.

There are times we need friends who will walk beside us and urge us along. But there are other times we need a coach who will boldly tell us to lift our eyes off the ground so we can walk the straight and narrow. Sometimes the most grace-invoking thing a friend can do is confront us.

In this precarious walk called life, we all need a Nathan.

***

 

Question: Do you have a Nathan? If not, who can you invite to be your Nathan?

 

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.

 

 

The Art of Pruning January 25, 2012

Filed under: Accountability — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
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My husband and I joke that he only moved in three things when we got married: his bike collection, his guitar collection, and his plant collection. I benefit from all three, but I’m specifically loving the plants.

Daniel is a master green thumb, especially when it comes to violets (which I have a pretty storied history of killing myself). The trick, he says, is in the pruning. At first it struck me as unnecessarily brutal to take a pair of scissors to those innocent little leaves that don’t seem to be hurting a soul. But if his flowering pots are any indication, this method seems to be working.

Yesterday I had one of those pruning conversations myself. Someone I love gently held up the mirror to me on one of those habitual sins I wasn’t even aware I’d been guilty of. And for me, those deeply entrenched lifestyle sins are way more painful to prune away than the one-time doozies. It feels more like digging up a root than trimming an errant leaf.

As much as it hurts to feel the shears, though, it’s what I want. It’s only when I let someone close enough to show me who I really am that they can help trim away the places that are quite literally sucking the life out of me.

Grace, I am learning, sometimes comes in the form of pruning shears.

He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.
—John 15:2