Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

God with Us December 10, 2013

Filed under: Christmas — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
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On the last day my three-year-old nephew was in town for a visit, his grandma and I asked him if there was anything else he wanted to do before he went back home. Without hesitation, he and his big sister replied, “We want to go to BOUNCE TOWN!”

 

For the uninitiated (as I was prior to aunthood), Bounce Town is one of those places with giant inflatable slides and tunnels, moon walks, inflatable castles, and air trampolines. In other words, a dream-come-true for anyone under three feet tall.

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From the moment we walked in the door, Tyler had my hand gripped in his own chubby fingers. He wanted to go everywhere with “Aunt Eppie,” as he calls me.

 

“Aunt Eppie go with me!” he exclaimed, racing toward the slide as I tried to keep pace.

 

After squirming my way through tunnels made me for people one-third my size and maneuvering around pint-sized torpedoes zipping down the slide, I asked Tyler what he wanted to do next. “Go on the Batman,” he said. “With Eppie!”

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And so I followed him to the Batman-themed inflatable, again contorting my body through various child-sized portals.

 

Next up was the trampoline. Tyler squealed with delight: “Eppie make me bounce in the air!”

 

By the time our hour had expired, I was sporting two rug burns, several sore muscles, and one headache. But you know what? It was worth every bruise, every bit of pain.

 

Because here’s the thing: Tyler can’t enter my world of work and e-mail and adult conversation and grown-up things. So I entered his world. It wasn’t comfortable—Bounce Town isn’t made for giants like me. But I scrunched my body through the tunnels and small spaces—all so I could be close to this boy I love, all so I could hold his hand, all so we could breathe the same air.

 

On the way home, tired but happy, it hit me that traipsing around Bounce Town in my stocking feet is a pretty good picture of Christmas. God wanted to be with us, but he realized how vast the gap was between us and him. So he entered into the awkward space of a human womb, squeezing himself through a narrow birth canal, experiencing unaccountable pain and discomfort throughout his three decades on earth—all so he could be with us, all so he could enter our world.

 

Immanuel. God with us.

 

Even in the tight, uncomfortable spaces of our earthly Bounce Town.

 

“This is the God of the gospel of grace. A God who, out of love for us, sent the only Son He ever had wrapped in our skin. He learned how to walk, stumbled and fell, cried for His milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed to a cross, and died whispering forgiveness on us all.”
—Brennan Manning

 

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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.

 

Two Sizes Too Small December 14, 2012

Filed under: 2 Corinthians — Stephanie Rische @ 11:57 am
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There’s no way around it: I’ve been a decorating Grinch this Christmas. Every year in the past, one of my highlights for the season has been the annual Christmas tree tradition. As a kid, I loved choosing the perfect tree to chop down and then hanging all the ornaments—the white dove from Grandma, the little ballerina shoes from Aunt Mary, the now-eyeless clothespin reindeer I’d made in second grade. When I got my own place, I made it my priority—ahead of a couch and a kitchen table—to get my own artificial tree, and I’ve been putting it up faithfully ever since.

 

Until this year.

 

Mom tells me this yuletide fatigue shouldn’t set in for another 20 years or so, but for whatever reason, I’ve been prematurely struck by the grinchies. As I dug through my Rubbermaid tubs full of Christmas paraphernalia, tossing aside decorations that seemed like too much effort, I realized there was only one nonnegotiable item I simply had toput out: the Advent wreath.

 

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is a beautiful, mysterious kind of anticipation about watching those cold, lifeless wicks burst into flame like so many miniature stars of Bethlehem. The Light of the world, intercepting our darkness.

 

I find it interesting that two of God’s most dramatic intersections into history—when he created the world and when he broke through heaven to put on human skin—are both marked by light. The very first chapter of Scripture records God’s declaration “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). Then when Jesus arrived on the scene, he was revealed as “the light of the world” (John 8:12).

 

And there is good news for those of us who still struggle to stave off the darkness, to hold at bay the terrors of the night. According to Paul, God’s light is not confined to the first day of creation or to the 30-some years Jesus walked the earth:

 

God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

—2 Corinthians 4:6

 

When the early Christians created the church calendar, they decided to celebrate Christ’s birth at the end of December. More likely, Jesus was born sometime in the spring, but the goal was to trump the pagan holiday marking the winter solstice. And really, what better symbolism could you find to mark the arrival of the Light of the World than to set aside the darkest day of the year, knowing that each day after that point will be filled with more and more light?

 

Yes, there may be a hole in the living room where my Christmas tree should be, but I do have a four-candled reminder of the Light who made his entrance that first Christmas.

 

He’s the Light that bursts through my darkness.

 

He’s the Light that grows stronger and brighter with each passing day.

 

He’s the Light that shines not only in Bethlehem, but in my heart.

 

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What Christmas decoration is a must for you to put up each year?

 

 

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.