Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Raspberry Harvest September 17, 2013

Filed under: Faith,Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:13 am
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Among the mental snapshots that defined summer for me as a child were those 100-degree days at my grandparents’ house. We’d spend all day outside—playing shuffleboard, running through the sprinkler, and going boating on the river.

 

But some of my most cherished memories were the afternoons in my grandfather’s raspberry patch. I loved the sweet tang of Grandpa’s raspberries in all forms—in homemade raspberry jam, in a bowl with cream, in Grandma’s array of luscious pastries and desserts. But my favorite way to eat the raspberries was straight off the vine, under the hot desert sun.

 Grandpa 2

***

 

My grandpa’s dementia has been creeping in over the past decade or so, and his once immaculate garden has now almost entirely surrendered to weeds and grass. There are no more army-straight rows of tomatoes or cucumbers, and his herb patch is no more than a memory. But somehow his raspberry bushes are still there—still producing fruit, still offering their ripe summer gifts.

 

I went to visit my grandparents over the summer, and on one 100-degree afternoon, with the desert sun smiling down on neck just the way I remembered from my childhood, I went out to the raspberry bushes with Grandpa to fill our little green baskets.

 

Grandpa struggles with basic tasks now, and on the way from the garage to the raspberry patch, he turned to me more than once to ask, “Now what are we supposed to be doing?”

 Grandpa 1

 

But the moment we got to the raspberry bushes, his motor memory kicked in, and he started picking like the efficient gardener I remember. I’d finish a raspberry bush, feeling confident I’d gotten all the ripe ones, and Grandpa would come along behind me, quietly filling his basket with all the hidden berries I’d missed.

 

***

 

We celebrated my grandparents’ 60th anniversary while I was there, and one night at dinner, as I looked around the huge table filled with their family—all the people who wouldn’t have been possible without them—I marveled at the harvest they are reaping after more than half a century together.

 

I looked at Grandpa’s daughter and her two children who all share his love of singing and who grace others with that gift as well.

 

I looked at my cousin with the mechanically wired mind, the curiosity to take things apart and put them together again—just like Grandpa.

 

I looked at my brother—the leader with the servant-heart—and saw my grandpa reflected in another generation.

 

I looked at my sister and my cousin—the ones with the big hearts and much love for people—and felt sure Grandpa must be proud.

 

I looked at his daughters who have sacrificed much and loved their families well, just as their father before them has done.

 

And as we toasted Grandma and Grandpa with generous slices of chocolate cake, it struck me that although Grandpa isn’t able to do much sowing right now, he’s reaping a harvest of all he’s planted over these 80-plus years. All those labors of love, all the watering and tending and patience and gentle pruning—it’s paying off now in the legacy he leaves to his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren.

 

So thank you, Grandpa. Thank you for all your years of faithfulness. Because of you, future generations will keep reaping what you planted. I’m so grateful to be one of the shoots tended in that soil.

 Grandpa 3

 

Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

—Galatians 6:9

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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.”

* * *

pastor bob2

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.

pastor bob1

 

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