Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Virtual Book Discussion: Cooked January 31, 2014

Thanks to everyone who joined us for our virtual book club for January. This month we’re discussing Cooked by Michael Pollan.

cooked1

 

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: Cooking with the Elements

I thought the author’s structure for the book was fascinating. I’d never considered how different types of cooking fit into the categories of fire, water, air, and earth, and it made for an intriguing setup. I also enjoyed the way he showed his own progression from kitchen amateur to apprentice to blossoming cook. I felt like I could relate since he didn’t start out as an expert, and I appreciated his willingness to jump in to various types of cooking with both feet.

Did you have a favorite section? Which of the elements are you most comfortable in when it comes to cooking? Which elements are you least comfortable in?

 

Discussion #2: Cooking and Community

I really appreciated the author’s observations about how the way we cook and the way we eat effect how communal we are as a society. I was especially intrigued by his theory that the style of the cooking itself impacts the way we consume meals. When people prepared food around a fire, they cooked and ate together as an entire community. Then when people started cooking with an oven in individual households, cooking and eating became family-centric events. Now, as microwaves and fast food become the meal-prepping tools of choice, the focus is on the individual. One of my favorite parts of the book was seeing how the author’s various cooking experiments brought his family together and resulted not only in edible rewards but also in intangible gifts, such as bonding and conversations with his wife and teenage son.

As our cooking and eating become more individualized, do you think we’re in danger of losing a sense of community and family? Is there anything we can do to promote these values in our own homes?

 

Discussion #3: Intentional Food Choices

One of the things I appreciated most about this book was the way it opened my eyes to the underlying ramifications of the choices we make about food, cooking, and eating. When we mindlessly stick something in the microwave, pick up dinner at the drive-thru, or prioritize other activities over “scratch cooking,” there are consequences—both for us as individuals and for us as a culture. Although I haven’t necessarily revamped my approach to cooking after reading this book, it certainly has made me more aware and more thoughtful about the choices I make to get dinner on the table. I wasn’t nearly as ambitious as the author (no whole-hog barbecue or beer brewing for me), and I didn’t try any of his recipes, but this book did inspire a few modest “from scratch” attempts. My biggest success was my bread-baking adventure (the first time I cooked with yeast!). I wasn’t ambitious enough to make a starter and baby it for weeks like the author did, but it felt like a step in the right direction.

Did this book cause you to reevaluate any of your cooking/eating choices? Have you ever attempted any cooking experiments similar to what the author describes in this book?

 

Rating

I’d give this book 4.5 stars. It made me think about food choices in a new way, and I appreciated the author’s style. He was at once knowledgeable and brilliant (I was impressed with the historical context and scientific background he offered throughout), but he was also accessible and an engaging storyteller.

 

4.5 stars

 

How many stars would you give this book (out of five)?

As a side note, if you liked this book, I’d recommend Bread and Wine, which we discussed here.

 

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

 

 

Special Announcement! January 14, 2014

Filed under: Writing — Stephanie Rische @ 8:02 am
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Coming soon . . . StephanieRische.com!

 

I’m so excited that soon I will be able to introduce you to the brand-new StephanieRische.com! It is currently being designed and created by the talented Sarah Parisi. My desire is that it will be a place where you will feel welcomed and will experience God’s grace in a fresh, real way.

 

If you’d like to be one of the first to get a peek when the site is finished, you can go to the site and enter your email address here!

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Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation . . . . We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.

—Anne Lamott

 

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.

 

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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

 

Where Is God? July 23, 2013

Filed under: Grace — Stephanie Rische @ 12:58 pm
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This summer our small group is taking a break from our usual routine of studying and discussing and making our way through a book together. In an attempt to go deeper with each other, we decided that at each gathering we’d have two people share about what God has done in their lives.

 

All the stories are different—some of us grew up knowing about God; some of us didn’t meet him until later in life. Some of us went down such dark paths we probably shouldn’t be here to tell about it; some of us were more subtle in our sins of choice. But there’s one thing we all have in common: we’re all broken and in desperate need of grace.

 

As we started sharing our stories, we noticed a pattern woven throughout each one. As we looked back, the places we could see God at work most clearly were the lowest points in our lives—our most grievous sins, our darkest seasons of failure, our struggles through grief and loss and loneliness.

 

After one person finished her testimony, there was a moment of sacred silence. Finally Daniel broke in: “Isn’t it amazing to think how we’re hemmed in and held, even when make the wrong choice . . . even when we don’t do the right thing?”

 

I thought of the three men in the Old Testament who were thrown into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3)—how if I’d been in their shoes, I’d no doubt have asked God to take me out of the fire. But as it turned out, God was right there in the midst of those flames.

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And I thought of Peter walking on the water to Jesus as the storm raged around him (Matthew 14). Scaredy-cat that I am, I surely would have asked God to calm the storm. But Jesus surprised Peter with something even more profound: he was right there in the midst of the waves.

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So what about my own life? I beg for the fire to be quenched, for the storm to be stilled. Sometimes he does just that. But other times Jesus is right there with me—in the midst of the flames, in the midst of the waves.

 

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me. . . .
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
—Psalm 139:1, 5

 

Even in the storms and the fire—maybe especially in the storms and the fire—we see the face of Jesus. It’s then that we are hemmed in, held.

 

God is here.

 

My Husband, Good Sam June 26, 2013

Filed under: Friends — Stephanie Rische @ 8:14 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

One of the nicknames I have for my husband is Sam. Which is weird, when you think about it, since his name is Daniel. But in his case it’s Sam as in Good Samaritan.

 

Here’s the thing: If you ever found yourself on the side of the road with a flat tire or a skinned knee or an empty tank of gas, Daniel is precisely the person you’d want to find you. In the three years I’ve known him, we’ve given a ride to a woman who was walking home in dress shoes after her car broke down, loaned an Allen wrench to a guy with bicycle troubles, and dropped someone off at the bicycle shop to get a new part for his bike—to name just a few examples.

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It’s always a rather startling experience to be with Daniel, I mean Sam, in these situations, because before I’ve even noticed there’s a problem, he has already diagnosed the situation, pulled over the vehicle, and procured the necessary tool.

 

So it was fully in character for Daniel to stop when he spotted the two guys off to the side of the bike path poring over their map the other evening. Daniel and I were on a bike ride together, reliving our first date from three years prior—our “blind date-iversary,” as we call it. We were pedaling to the park we’d gone to on our first date when we spotted—okay, when “Sam” spotted, the pair of guys, looking weary and a little lost.

 

“Do you know where you’re going?” he asked, coasting his bicycle to a stop.

 

It turned out the duo was a father and a son, on a 540-mile trek to celebrate Will’s high school graduation. They’d started in Iowa six days ago, and they were now on the last leg of their journey, hoping to arrive at their friends’ house before dark.

 

There was just one problem: the paths had changed significantly since the last time the dad had been in the area some thirty years ago. And the map didn’t seem to be matching up with the signs around them.

 

Daniel went over directions with them, coaching them through the forks in the path and the landmarks they could expect along the way. Then, just as they were getting ready to head out, Daniel said, “Hey, we could ride with you for this leg. That would at least get you past this tricky part.”

 

Their sweat-streaked faces lit up at the offer. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”

 

But as it turned out, we were the ones who reaped the real benefits. As we rode together, they regaled us with tales from the journey—how they narrowly made it to shelter just before a spontaneous storm struck, how they pushed through the pain of the brutal Wisconsin hills, how they managed to pack light enough to carry all the belongings they needed for a week.

 

As we rode together, I thought about what a gift it is to have friends who travel with us on various legs of our journeys. No one can journey with us all the way from the start to the finish line, but God has a way of sending fellow pilgrims just when we need them . . . when we’re climbing that big hill, when we feel too weary to go one more mile, when we’re lost and in need of directions.

daniel and steph2

 

Finally we arrived at the spot where the trail diverged, and we offered our new friends some banana bread (another nod to our first date) before saying our good-byes.

 

“Bless you,” the dad said, shaking our hands warmly. The son nodded, his mouth full of another large bite.

 

But we’d already been blessed. That’s the funny thing about hanging around with the Sams of the world. You start out thinking you’re offering a blessing, but the blessings come pouring back to you a hundredfold instead.

 

Happy three years of knowing you, Sam. I’m so glad God gave us each other for the rest of this journey.

 

 

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

 

Bridging the Gap August 24, 2012

Filed under: Zephaniah — Stephanie Rische @ 8:14 am
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On a recent Wednesday evening I drove to a building that was just a few towns away, but the moment I stepped in the door, I felt like I’d walked into another world.

My husband, Daniel, was the “visiting artist” for mentally ill adults who live at various group homes in the area, and I was going along as his assistant. (For the record, I can’t even draw stick figures, but I figured at the very least I was qualified to wash out the paintbrushes.)

Having had limited exposure to individuals with mental illness of this severity, I was a little nervous, unsure what to expect. Daniel told me all I needed to do was be there, that showing up would be enough. But still I worried.

As the participants finished dinner, I joined them around the table and tried desperately to come up with conversation topics we could connect on. What common ground would I be able to find with people whose lives looked so different from mine—many of whom had been dealt the harsh blows of homelessness, unemployment, and addiction, some of whom had been abandoned by family members and shunned by society at large?

Fortunately for my tongue-tied self, Daniel is a master at breaking the ice. “What do you like to do for fun?” he asked the group, making eye contact with each person who would meet his gaze. And with that simple question, the table launched from awkward silence into animated conversation.

I found out that Jim is a diehard darts player, that Steven has a passion for his motorized kayak (who knew such a thing existed?), that Betty Ann loves anything yellow, and that Gene could cite every statistic about the Chicago Bears from 1986 on.

Before I knew it, it was time to start the art project, so I distributed the scissors, glue, and paint. As the participants got to work, I realized that we had not only creative talent but also some quick wit represented in the group.

Before we began, Chris had told me that using scissors wasn’t his forte. But once we got going, I noticed he was doing a meticulous job, and I told him as much.

“Hey, you’re good at cutting,” I said.

Without missing a beat, he responded, “I’m good at cutting the cheese, maybe!”

And when I saw Jon mixing the paint colors to create beautiful shades of chartreuse and burnt orange, I told him I was impressed with how artistic he was.

With a wry grin and a self-deprecating chuckle, Jon shot back, “Wait…did you say artistic or autistic?”

As the evening progressed and our hands gradually became kaleidoscopes of tempera paint, I had a sudden realization: I was having fun. And I had a lot more in common with these new friends than I thought I would. Daniel was right: there was power in simply showing up.

Somehow the chasm that had once loomed so large in my mind was shrinking once it was removed from the realm of the theoretical. Now that we were sitting at the same table, face to face, our differences didn’t seem so unbroachable.

It got me to thinking about the Incarnation—how God himself showed up in our world in human form. How he narrowed the huge gap between us and him—a gap infinitely more yawning than any perceived gap between me and another equally valuable human being.

Zephaniah prophesied about the Incarnation, when God would span that divine gap and make his dwelling with the likes of us:

 

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

No doubt there are profound aspects to the Incarnation, theological conundrums that scholars could devote a lifetime to. But as I sat there with my hands covered in paint, I was struck by a rawer side of the Incarnation. A God who showed up. A God who didn’t grit his teeth to make small talk with us but instead delighted in us. A God whose Incarnation was birthed out of gladness and love.

Jesus showed up. He bridged the gap. And he did so with delight.

May I never think I’m above doing the same.

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.