Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Sweet Sundays: Part 6 September 20, 2013

Filed under: Sweet Sundays — Stephanie Rische @ 8:07 am
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I woke up to the sound of rain last Sunday, and the to-do list started pummeling faster and harder than the drops against the skylight.

 

  • The sink has acquired that nasty yellow scum line on it again. Must clean this afternoon.
  • When’s the last time I got in a good workout? Must connect with the treadmill at some point today.
  • Oh yeah, I’m scheduled for coffee duty at church. Must get out of bed and caffeinate the congregation.

 rain1

 

As the day wore on, the rain let up, but not so my inner taskmaster.

  • The well-meaning friend at church described the dinner she was making for her husband that night. (I couldn’t pronounce most of the ingredients, let alone do any sort of alchemy with them in the kitchen.) Must cook something more exotic than tacos tonight.
  • The freelance project deadline is looming. Must make a dent in that today.

 

But finally, ever so quietly, I heard a subtler voice beneath the deluge of my to-do list. It was a voice reminding me that today was the Sabbath. The day that flies in the face of productivity. The day that in some counterintuitive way recharges me to be whole and refreshed so I’ll be ready to face the six days ahead. The day that’s intended to be devoted to Someone else’s agenda rather than my own.

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

C. S. Lewis knew what it’s like to be pummeled with “fussing and frettings” from the moment our feet hit the ground:

 

It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussing and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

 

It was a battle—I’m not going to lie. For once, though, the Sabbath won, and this was a battle I was happy to lose. The sink still sports its yellow ring, the treadmill accumulated dust all day, the freelance project was categorically ignored, and I reheated leftovers for dinner. And you know what? Nobody died. The world didn’t end.

 

I’m writing this down in hopes that I’ll remember. Next time, when all the to-dos rush at me like so many wild animals, I want to take my cues from Lewis and let that larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. I invite you to join me.

 

Come on in, out of the wind . . . and rest awhile.

 

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Fireflies of the Soul July 30, 2013

Filed under: Faith — Stephanie Rische @ 8:14 am
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At first glance, it may seem that God sprinkled the Midwest with the leftovers when he was distributing nature’s gifts. We can’t see the purple mountains’ majesty from here, and our shorelines boast no waving palm trees. We don’t waken to the sound of crashing ocean waves or plunging waterfalls, and our rest stops don’t sell postcards of stately lighthouses.

 

But over the years I’ve come to suspect that God had a few secrets up his sleeve when he made the heartland, a few gifts to compensate for an otherwise lackluster showing. These gifts aren’t big or loud or dramatic, and only those with a discerning eye notice them. But once you discover them, like so many clues on a treasure hunt, you just may find yourself settling in and calling the place home.

 

There are the sunny daffodils that peek sleepy heads out of the ground after a long, cold winter. There’s the never-ending canvas of sky, alternately dotted with cotton-ball clouds and painted with fiery oranges and pinks as the sun dips below the horizon. There’s the beautiful dying of the trees as they explode in a final display of color before hunkering down for the winter.

 

And then there are the fireflies that make their appearance on hot summer evenings. Maybe most of all, the fireflies.

 

firefly1

 

My friend and I were walking along the trail at dusk the other night, and it was one of those evenings that succumbed to nightfall in a whisper of a second. One moment we could see the path beneath our feet, and the next we were treading into darkness.

 

Maybe the cover of evening makes it easier for truth to leak out, but it was in that sacred moment of dusk-to-darkness that my friend’s secret spilled over the edges. Her happy, surprising news that just couldn’t stay bottled up inside her anymore.

 

The words were barely off her lips when the fireflies ignited in a symphony of lights, illuminating the sky with their pulsing. Just one moment earlier they were nowhere to be found, yet with the single flip of a switch, we were surrounded by thousands of tiny flashlights, small enough to fit in the palm of our hands.

 

And I wondered: Had they appeared out of nowhere, on cue somehow? Or had they been there all along, and I just couldn’t see them without the curtain of darkness?

 

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Most of the time I fear the darkness, shrink away from it, attempt to push it back. But what if some of those secret bursts of light God has hidden in my heart can only show up against the backdrop of darkness?

 

I don’t want to miss anything in this ordinary, glorious landscape of my Midwestern soul. So if the darkness needs to come as a backdrop to those little divine beacons, then let it come. Let it come, so I can see the flickering light, so I can hold it in the palm of my hand. I don’t want to miss a single firefly of the soul.

 

“We do not truly see light, we only see slower things lit by it, so that for us light is on the edge—the last thing we know before things become too swift for us.”

—C. S. Lewis

 

Sweatpant Friends April 30, 2013

Filed under: Friends — Stephanie Rische @ 12:48 pm
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I was given an unspeakable gift last weekend: the gift of sweatpant friends.

 

We women, we feel almost constant pressure to put forth our best self…to coordinate the outfit and gloss the lips and fix the hair and don the stylish (i.e., uncomfortable) shoes. All so we can look like we have it all together, that we ourselves are all together.

 

But last weekend eight of us girls who have been friends since the days of Jars of Clay and bad perms got together and spent a few days in the rarest of settings—a safe haven where we could be our unvarnished, un-makeup-ed, sweatpanted selves.

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It’s been almost fifteen years since we were all in the same place together, and honestly I wasn’t sure how things would fall into place. Would it work to have eight women accustomed to having our own nests all together under the same roof? Would things get cliquey or competitive or catty? Would we still find common ground all these years later?

 

There were a thousand reasons not to do it—the cost, the travel arrangements, the logistics, the potential awkwardness. Not to mention the 14 collective children we have as a group, plus one on the way. Was it worth all the effort?

 

I credit our loyal, creative teacher-friend for setting the tone in the first place: You all don’t mind if I wear sweatpants all weekend, right?

And from that moment, the stage was set for things to be real, authentic, vulnerable. In a word: imperfect. Just like our cottage.

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With its turquoise and canary-yellow walls, adorned with mismatched bits of Americana, the quirky rental felt like a metaphor in itself. The kitchen sloped down on one side; the wood floors let out contented groans every time we took a step. The gaps around the window frames and the door ushered howly gusts of wind and sand into the otherwise cozy living room.

 

But something about it felt just right. Community, after all, isn’t about creating something pristine, seamless, perfectly composed. The beauty of community comes when we bring together the mismatched pieces in a delightfully quirky collage. As the eight of us sat in our mismatched chairs, sipping hot chocolate and pouring out the past decade of our lives to one another, our words tumbled out much like our attire: real, raw, unpolished.

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I know it’s unrealistic to live in beach-cottage world all the time, but still I wonder: How can I keep this sense of community even when my old friends are miles away? And how can I turn new friends and acquaintances into sweatpant friends?

 

I’m not quite sure, but I offer you the same challenge I pose to myself:

 

Reach out.

Take a risk.

Embrace the messiness of real friendship.

Find someone with whom you can ditch your makeup and your put-togetherness.

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And by all means, if you don’t have a sweatpants-level friend, do whatever it takes to become one.

 

Friendship arises…when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”…It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision—it is then that friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.

—C. S. Lewis

 

Saying Goodbye April 23, 2013

Filed under: Faith — Stephanie Rische @ 1:50 pm
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We weren’t made to say goodbye.

 

Goodbye always comes like a thief…unexpected, startling, jarring. And too soon. Always too soon.

 

Even when we know it’s coming, there’s no real way to be prepared.

 

I think of my friend Sarah, whose dad is too young to have cancer. She was just there for Christmas, and he was his usual cheerful self, playing endless games of pretend with his grandkids, fixing things around the house, eating his trademark bologna sandwich. She’s not ready to say

newtowngoodbye.

 

I think of the parents in Newtown who sent their children off to school one December morning, with no way of knowing it would be the last hug, the last wave, the last goodbye.

 

I think of the city of Boston, all abuzz with the spirit of friendly competition earlier last week, never dreaming it would be a day for goodbyes.

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I’m not typically someone who shirks reality, but lately I find myself flipping channels when the news comes on, skipping over the bad news stories, closing my ears to yet another tale of premature goodbyes.

 

It isn’t supposed to be this way. We weren’t made for goodbyes.

***

 

Over Easter my extended family made a road trip out east to see my brother and his family—a rare treat for all of us to be happily sardined in one place. When it was time to leave, we went through the long, ceremonial goodbyes, offering hugs and inside jokes and recaps of the trip and promises to get together again soon.

 

Then it came time for my mom to say goodbye to four-year-old Lyla, her only granddaughter. Mom stretched out her arms and  wrapped the girl, pajamas and all, in one of those all-encompassing hugs only a grandma can pull off. I didn’t have to look at her face to know she was crying.

 

Lyla pulled back and looked intently into her grandma’s face.mom and lyla1

 

“Grandma,” she said, her tone somber, grown-up. “I can make you cry.”

 

“You sure can!” My mom smiled at Lyla through her tears.

 

Without missing a beat, Lyla delivered her line: “Knock-knock.”

 

Mom looked surprised but played along. “Who’s there?”

 

“Boo.” A smug grin crept onto Lyla’s face.

 

“Boo who?”

 

With that, Lyla threw her arms around Grandma and giggled. The laughter was infectious, and before long, all of us were giggling like little girls.

 

It felt biblical, in a way. Tears into laughter. Mourning into joy.

 

Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
—Psalm 30:5

***

I have no words to make sense of senseless tragedy or to explain when people have to say goodbye before their time.

mom and lyla2

But I do know that we were made for a different world. A world where there’s no crying or death or sorrow or pain. A world where, overnight, weeping morphs into joy.

 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.

–Revelation 21:4

 

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

Why love if losing hurts so much? We love to know that we are not alone.
—C. S. Lewis

 

To Anyone Who Feels Underloved on Valentine’s Day February 14, 2013

Filed under: Love — Stephanie Rische @ 12:35 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

unloved4I write this with no credentials except that I’ve spent my share of Valentine’s Days solo. And I know firsthand that there’s no way around it: it stinks to feel alone on Valentine’s Day.

 

I remember being single and having nice people try to cheer me up whenever February 14 rolled around. (Which it inevitably did. Every. Single Year.) I appreciated their kindness, but it kind of felt like getting a stick of gum when you’re ravenous for steak.

 

All that to say, I won’t pretend that anything I can say will make this day easier. But I feel compelled to say it anyway, just to let you know that you are not invisible. You are not alone. And even when it doesn’t feel like it, you are loved.

 

Today, if you feel betrayed or abandoned by someone you thought would never leave, this is what God says to you:

I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.

—Hebrews 13:15

 

Today, if you feel alone in this big world, God says:

Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

—Matthew 28:20

 

Today, if you feel forgotten, like so many leftovers, God says:

I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

—Isaiah 49:15-16

 

Today, if you feel like you got passed over when Cupid was flinging his arrows, this is what God says:

I have loved you…with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.

—Jeremiah 31:3

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Today, if you feel unnoticed, damaged, unappreciated, devalued, here’s God’s promise:

The Lord your God is living among you.

He is a mighty savior.

He will take delight in you with gladness.

With his love, he will calm all your fears.

He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

—Zephaniah 3:17

 

As for me, my love isn’t close to God’s love. It has conditions, it lets people down, it’s forgetful, it’s self-centered and fickle and cantankerous. But my prayer this Valentine’s Day is that God will weed out my own love from my heart and replace it with his love. Love that is unconditional and pure and selfless.

 

“In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give.”

—C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

 

It’s with that generous love that I want to love God and my husband and my family and my friends and strangers. And it’s with that love that I love you, whoever you are, wherever you are, however alone you’re feeling right now.

 

Wherever you find yourself on Valentine’s Day, know this:
You. Are. Loved.

 

48 Pieces of Fried Chicken January 18, 2013

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When Daniel and I walked into the grocery store the other night, we were just expecting to pick up a few things for dinner. We weren’t anticipating so much drama.

 

When we checked out, the couple in front of us had two huge tubs of fried chicken, the aroma of which wafted through the checkout area, setting our stomachs to rumbling. After all our items had been scanned and bagged, we noticed that the couple remained standing there, apparently still waiting for their chicken.

 

“Where did you put their bags?” the cashier asked the guy doing the bagging, a gangly teenager with a mop of blue-streaked hair.

 

He gave her a look of befuddlement. “You mean the chicken? I gave it to the woman in front of them.”

 

“Well, go to the parking lot!” she barked. “You’d better find her before she drives away.”

 

As the bagger dashed out of the store, Daniel and I looked at each other, trying our best not to split at the seams. We couldn’t decide what was funnier—the fact that the couple had patiently waited all this time for their fried chicken, which by now was probably halfway across town in an unidentified SUV, or the fact that at this very moment some woman was driving away wondering why her car smelled like KFC. I wished I could have seen her face when she arrived at home to find precisely 48 pieces of hot chicken in with the rest of her groceries.

 

grocery2

 

But our laughter evaporated the moment we exited the store. There was the bagger, standing in his shirtsleeves despite the freezing temperatures. He was shouting into the night air and throwing punches at the concrete post outside the store.

 

Daniel, who possesses the handy skillset of being able to strike up conversations with strangers and being able to calm potentially volatile situations, didn’t hesitate. “Hey,” he said to the boy. “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m just about ready to sack this job.” The kid swung another fist into the air.

 

As the conversation progressed, we found out the store was understaffed that day and the bagger felt like he couldn’t keep up. “And when I’m under pressure,” he said, “I do stupid things like this. I might as well quit before they fire me.”

 

Fortunately, among his other talents, Daniel also has the gift of encouragement. “You know, they need you in there. If you leave, what will they do without you? I know you can go in there and finish well tonight. It’ll work out.”

 

Before long, our bagger friend had calmed down and was ready to face the disgruntled cashier. I don’t know if he ended up quitting or not, but before he headed back in the store, he managed a small smile. “Thanks,” he said, nodding in Daniel’s direction.

 

As we made our way to our car, I couldn’t help but wonder how different that guy’s evening might have been if we’d just avoided the awkwardness and headed straight to our car.

 

To encourage literally means to pour courage into someone, and that’s exactly what Daniel did: he gave that boy the courage to turn around and go back into the store. But something I’d never considered much before was that encouragement also tends to require courage on the part of the one doing the encouraging. Daniel was only able to pour courage into this guy because he was courageous enough to enter his world.

 

Sometimes courage-pouring means stepping right into the middle of awkwardness when it would be easier to go our own way.

 

In his essay “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis extends this sobering charge about the way we treat the people we come into contact with each day—at work, at home, even at the grocery store. Since people are made in the image of God, he claims, they are no mere mortals. They deserve courage-pouring—all of them.

 

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

 

I confess that as Daniel and I drove away, we shamelessly peered into the window to find out what happened with the chicken. The last we saw, the couple was going back for two new buckets of fried chicken. We can only assume the other woman called a bunch of her friends over and had a party.

 

Encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

—1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

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.

 

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