Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

God’s Favorite January 24, 2014

Have you ever wondered if God plays favorites? I’m over at Pick Your Portion today, writing about Genesis 25.

Gods favorite


Time magazine recently ran a cover story with the evocative title “Why Mom Liked You Best.” In it Jeffrey Kluger makes the claim that all parents—even those who vehemently deny it—have a favorite child. Since Kulger’s Time article came out, scientists, psychologists, and parents have engaged in heated discussion about whether this is indeed the case for all parents. It may be difficult to prove his theory scientifically, but there is no denying that parental favoritism has been around since nearly the dawn of time.


In ancient Greece and Rome, parents who knew they couldn’t care for all their children would commit infanticide, killing their newborn daughters in favor of their sons.


Princess Amelia, the youngest of George III and Queen Charlotte’s fifteen children, was widely known to be her father’s favorite, and she was treated as such from her birth.


Author Charles Dickens felt the effects of not being the favored child. His family didn’t have enough money to send both him and his older sister to school, so they sent his sister to school while he slaved away in boot-blacking factory.


But perhaps one of the most well-known cases of parental favoritism dates back to the book of Genesis.


To read the rest of the piece, you can visit Pick Your Portion here.


Virtual Book Club: Wonder January 3, 2014

Thanks to everyone who joined us for our first young adult novel discussion. This month we’re talking about Wonder by R. J. Palacio, which I introduced here.


Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few topics for discussion, and you can write your responses about these topics (or others you’d like to discuss) in the comment section.


Discussion #1: The Best and the Worst in People

In this novel, Augie goes through a more extreme version of what everyone experiences at some point—the agony of being different, the fear of not being accepted, the pain of being excluded. Middle school is a crucible that brings out the best and worst in people, and this is even more obvious with someone like Augie, who has a significant physical deformity.


We see the pain inflicted by Augie’s classmates who bully him and actively avoid him (claiming he has “the plague”), and we also see the pain inflicted in more passive ways by peers who aren’t mean to him but don’t stand up for him either. But on the flip side, we also see the good in humanity, such as when Jack forfeits his popularity to be Augie’s friend and when Summer sits at his lunch table even though it meant the popular kid wouldn’t go out with her.


When you were a kid, where did you fit in the social pecking order? Were you a leader, someone who went with the crowd, or someone who marched to your own drum? How can we encourage kids to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s not popular?


Discussion #2: Everyone Has a Story

I enjoyed hearing the different perspectives on the same story—it was a good reminder that everyone has a story to tell. (Although it did get tedious at times when the content overlapped from one person’s story to the next.) Via, the dutiful big sister, is often overshadowed by everything that’s happening to Augie, but when we hear her story, we realize that she’s dealing with challenges of her own too. And while we may be tempted to judge Miranda at first, after we hear her side, we discover that she’s been struggling with her parents’ divorce.


Did you like the multiple viewpoints format? Did you have a favorite character?


Discussion #3: Loving without Overprotecting

I liked the way the relationships were portrayed in Augie’s family. His parents seemed believable—imperfect but full of love. I imagine that every parent or teacher feels the struggle they felt when they sent Augie off to middle school “like a lamb to the slaughter.” How do you protect your child and still prepare him/her for the real world? How do you know when to let go and allow him fall sometimes?


Do you think you would have sent your child to school, as Augie’s parents did? What would you have handled differently?


Discussion #4: The Ending

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting for the ending of this book, but I was a little disappointed. It seems like Augie’s award at graduation was supposed to be the climactic moment, but rang somewhat hollow to me. His whole life, Augie has wanted to be a regular kid, like everyone else. He doesn’t want to be different or special or pitied or coddled by adults, so having the principal select him for the award didn’t seem like an apt conclusion. Maybe it would have been more satisfying if the award had been voted on by all his peers—it would have shown how much had changed over the course of the year.


What did you think of the ending? If you were writing an alternate ending, what would happen in your version? What do you think will happen to Augie next year?



I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It was a little slow at times, and I wanted to skim past some of the tedious fifth grade interactions. But then again, maybe that’s because I’m not the target audience. This book will spark good conversations—for adults and kids alike—and it rings true as a study of the human condition.

 4 stars


How many stars would you give this book?


{Remember: there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!}



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.



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!”



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




9 Books Every Girl Should Read November 15, 2013

Whether you’re looking for a book for a girl you love or you missed these along the way in your childhood, here are nine of my top titles for girls.


The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williamsgirls book1

This book offers some profound insights about how love can hurt, but how it’s also what makes you real.


“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”



A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Englegirls book4

I’m not sure if this is an adult book that can also be appreciated by kids or a kids book that can also be appreciated by adults, but it holds up for any age, any generation. I remember reading it and having my eyes opened to the wonder and mystery just under the surface of ordinary life. I also felt a special kinship with Meg, who doesn’t seem to fit in with her peers but finds herself uniquely equipped to deal with another world once she arrives there—a world she never even dreamed of.



The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patersongirls book6

This was the first book I remember reading that didn’t have a happy ending. Although I felt indignant about it at the time, I grew to appreciate the beautiful picture of friendship painted in this book and how the characters’ grief prepared me to face my own losses.



The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnettgirls book5

This book serves as a reminder that friendship can blossom just as surely as flowers do, that miracles are possible, and that hope is worth clinging to.


“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?” . . .  

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine.”



Little Women by Louisa May Alcottgirls book9

I think every girl has a little bit of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy in her. These sisters helped me grow up and figure out who I was, and they showed me how to stay true to what I stood for.



Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomerygirls book2

I read this series so many times the books are now practically falling apart. After I read each book as a kid, I’d give it to my grandmother (she of the red hair and the spunky personality, just like Anne) and we’d talk about it together. Looking back, I suppose it was my first impromptu book club.



Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wildergirls book8

I must have overlooked the parts about dysentery, the lack of indoor plumbing, and the absence of central air, but I desperately wanted to go back in time so I could be Laura. This book offers a poignant snapshot of a particular era in our country’s history, and it’s rich with themes of family relationships and the tough times can help us learn and grow.


“There’s no great loss without some small gain.”


girls book 3

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

This book is pure fun. My sister and I loved wearing colorful stockings and putting our hair in pigtails, Pippi style.



Winnie the Horse Gentler by Dandi Daley Mackallgirls book7

This book came into my life when I was an adult, like a long-lost friend, but it’s a story every girl should read. Horse lover or not, every girl will connect with the ups and the downs of being a kid, the longing for friendship, and the way the funny moments of life weave together with the more serious ones.



What were your favorite books as a kid? I’d love to hear your list.


Surprise Me! October 29, 2013

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:03 am
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I love going places with my sister where there is ordering of any sort involved. That’s because almost without fail, when she places her order, she drops the line “Surprise me” at some point in the conversation.


If she’s getting a cappuccino and the barista asks what flavor she’d like, Meghan will give her trademark dimpled grin and say, “Surprise me!” If she’s ordering a salad and is offered various dressing options, her response is the same: “Surprise me!” If I’m getting her something to drink out of Mom’s fridge, I can almost guarantee her refrain will echo once again: “Surprise me!”


I always stare at her, wide eyed. “What if you get something you don’t like?”


She just flashes a grin at me and shrugs. “That’s part of the fun of the surprise.”


Me, I’m a planner. I like to map it all out, write a script. I cling to the illusion of control. Truth be told, I’d rather do the surprising than the being surprised.


But this sister of mine, she lives with her arms wide open. She embraces life, holds out her hands to accept the surprises God has for her, just the way she does with her coffee.


So when the time approached for Meghan’s baby to born, I should have expected that this surprise-loving sister of mine would make room for as many surprises as possible.


“Girl or boy?” I asked over the phone, breathless, after her ultrasound.


“We’re going to be surprised!” she said, and I could hear the smile in her voice.


“What names are you thinking about?”


“We’re keeping it a surprise!”


And of course, the details of the birth itself were a surprise. Two days before her due date, Meghan went to the doctor. “You’re progressing right along,” he said. “It should be any day now.”


But the next day nothing happened. And nothing the next day either, or the day after, or the whole week after.


And then, ten days past her due date, just when the doctor was ready to speed things along, surprise! The baby decided to make a grand appearance. And the new mom and dad unwrapped their surprise package right there in their hospital room…a little gift of a girl named Addie Mae.




And when I first looked into the face of that sweet surprise, I wondered what other surprises God might have up his sleeve. What do I miss out on when I try to make the plan and script it all out myself?


This little girl, this eight-pound bundle, she is teaching me already. Her life whispers, as soft as breathing, This is life! This is joy! This is a whole new world of divine surprises.




So here I am, God, with my eyes squeezed shut and my arms wide open. Surprise me.




A Letter to My Sister on Her 28th Birthday May 24, 2013

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 11:44 am
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They were going to name you Fart-Dart.


We had a family meeting to discuss names before you were born, and Dad and Kyle formed an alliance, claiming that if you were a boy, Fart-Dart it would be. My indignant protests and sisterly outrage fell on deaf ears. They were too busy trying to figure out a middle name that would go well with Fart-Dart.


At seven, I was pretty sure Mom wouldn’t let that fly, but I wasn’t positive. Those two were a force to be reckoned with when they teamed up together—Dad with his “No, I mean it” expression that made it impossible for me to tell if he was joking, and Kyle with his infectious giggle that bubbled up every time bathroom humor was employed.


And so I prayed. Every night before I went to bed, I prayed and prayed, with all the seven-year-old faith I could muster, that you would be a girl so you wouldn’t have to live your life under such a curse.


Sure enough, on a Friday in May all those years ago, Mom and Dad called from the hospital with the news. I was sitting on the bed in Grandma and Grandpa’s guest room—the one with the orange flowered bedspread. I could barely breathe as I waited for the announcement.


“It’s a girl,” Mom said.


I knew I was supposed to say something, but my throat was stuck. At seven, I thought you only cried when you were sad. I couldn’t figure out why tears were trying to squeeze out now, when I was so happy.


Finally I eked out the logical question: “What’s her name?”


Mom and Dad hadn’t decided yet. But it didn’t matter—I had a sister. And her name would not be Fart-Dart.


All these years later, God has answered my prayer in ways beyond what I thought I was asking for back then. I’d been praying for a sister to avoid a name disaster, and he’s given me a sister to talk with, laugh with, whisper with, and do crossword puzzles with. He’s given me a sister who shows me what it means to shine Christ’s light in the way she cares for others and faithfully lives her life. He’s given me a sister who encourages me to try new things, a sister who spurs me to live more fully and abundantly and joyfully. He’s given me a sister who also happens to be my friend.


Meghan, you are the answer to my prayers and then some.


And now in this year of your life, baby sister, you are going to have a baby yourself. And you know what? You’re going to be such a good mom. I’m praying for your baby as we count down these months and days, just as I prayed for you twenty-eight years ago—not about the gender this time, but that this child will love God and love people. That he’ll have a big heart and a pure faith. That he’ll embrace life with his arms wide open. Just like his mama.


But I do have just one piece of advice for you as prepare for this baby’s appearance: please, whatever you do, don’t name this kid Fart-Dart.



The Mother-Love of God May 13, 2013

Filed under: God's love — Stephanie Rische @ 1:24 pm
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My friend Sarah had a baby shower not long ago, and I was asked to share something before gift-opening time. I found myself stymied at first, not knowing firsthand what it’s like to be a mom, but as I pondered more, I realized I do know what it’s like to have a mom. I’ve been given the incomparable gift of a mom whose unconditional love has pointed me to the love of God. So whether you are a mom or have had a mom, I’d like to share Sarah’s shower message with you.


When we think about God, we usually picture him as a Father, and it’s true—he’s everything a good dad should be: loving, protective, strong, fair in his discipline. But who knew? The Bible also says that God is like a mother. Apparently there’s something about the love of a mom that shows us a side of God’s character nothing else can.


1. Like a mom, God loves his children before they’re even born.

Sarah, when you and John announced that you were expecting a baby, the room could barely contain your excitement. We could tell how overjoyed you were about this little person, even before you met her. Even when you were so sick you could barely get out of bed, you were already forming a special connection with her. The truth was obvious to the world: you loved your little girl.


God feels the same way about us, his children. He knew us even before we were born, just as he knows your baby girl even now, all four pounds of her. He knows every little detail about her—what color her eyes will be, if she’ll be musical or artistic or social, what will make her giggle, what will make her cry, what will make her heart pound with passion, what will make her heart break. And God loves her, even now.


You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body

and knit me together in my mother’s womb….

You saw me before I was born.

Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.

They cannot be numbered!

—Psalm 139:13, 16-17



2. Like a mom, God loves his children when they’re completely dependent on him.

Sarah, when that baby is placed in your arms in the hospital, the love will be a little one-sided at first. She won’t be able to pay you for taking care of her, she won’t be able to do any chores around the house to earn her keep, she won’t even be able to say thank you. But you know what? You’ll love her anyway, even though she can’t reciprocate your love.

That unconditional mother-love is the kind of love God has for us. We don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it, and we’re totally dependent on him. Yet he showers his love on us anyway.


Can a mother forget her nursing child?

Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?

But even if that were possible,

I would not forget you!
—Isaiah 49:15



3. Like a mom, God loves his children as they grow up.

Sarah, as your daughter grows up and starts to spread her wings, your love for her will only grow deeper. The way you show her love will look different—you won’t be changing her diaper or feeding her mashed peas anymore—but your love won’t change. You’ll always be her mom.


Psalm 131 talks about the beautiful bond that takes place between a mother and a child when the child chooses to be close—not because they need something, but just because they love their mom.


I have calmed and quieted myself,

like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.

Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
—Psalm 131:2


Sarah, I see that in your relationship with your own mom. You talk with her, you laugh with her, you share things with her—not just when you need something, but because she’s your friend. The same is true in our relationship with God. He wants us to come to him with our needs, yes, but he also delights when we come to him simply because we want to be in his presence. Like a weaned child.


So, Sarah, as you enter motherhood and as your daughter goes through each stage, I pray that you will grow in your love for her. And along the way, I pray that God will give you new glimpses into his own love. His unconditional, extravagant, mother-like love.


Postscript: Sarah and John’s baby girl, Hannah, entered the world two months ago. Happy first Mother’s Day, Sarah!