Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

10 Minutes with God: Obedience February 7, 2014

Filed under: Scripture Reflections — Stephanie Rische @ 12:28 pm
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I had the privilege of writing the devotions for my church’s website again this week. Here’s a peek at one of the posts about obeying God’s commands.

 

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Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands.

—Psalm 119:5-6

 

Let’s just say for a moment that the standard for getting into heaven is being able to long-jump all the way across the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean. (It’s not, of course, but just humor me for a moment here.) Imagine that the standard has been set, and everyone knows the expectation. Some people train for this moment from early childhood, building their muscles and doing exercises to improve their jumping abilities. Some athletic types are inherently better suited for the event than others. And some people have longer legs, giving them an inborn advantage over their peers.

 

When it comes time to jump, however, no one could ever come close. Maybe the person with short legs who hadn’t trained at all would make it a few feet. Perhaps the person with the strong quads would make it a foot farther than the average person. And maybe the Olympic long jumper would set a world record, launching his body a whopping 29 ½ feet.

 

But do you know what? It wouldn’t matter, because none of them would come anywhere near the goal. None of them would get far enough to even see the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, let alone jump there. Even if one person jumped three times as far as everyone else, they would all be so far from the target that the difference would be practically indiscernible. Whether you made it one foot across the ocean or 30, the more important issue is the thousands of nautical miles you have yet to go.

 

To read the rest of the devotion (or to listen to the audio), click here.

 

6 Gifts You Need This Christmas December 20, 2013

Filed under: Christmas — Stephanie Rische @ 8:07 am
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The words of the great prophecy came not in a time of triumph, trumpeted from the rooftop of a palace or on a victorious battleground. Instead, they were whispered in the dark, underneath the rumblings of an enemy invasion and a sweeping defeat. They trickled underground, slow and quiet, to a people huddled in the cold—a people whose hopes had been crushed, whose candle had all but been extinguished.

 

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

—Isaiah 9:2

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Today Christmas meets us wherever we are, too, whether in a patch of light and joy, or stumbling along without a lantern, trying to fend off the encroaching darkness. And so this Christmas, here are the six gifts all of us need—the six gifts I wish for you, no matter how dark the night may be.

 

For those times when life is a gerbil wheel and you find yourself going through the motions day after day, wondering where the joy went . . . may you know Him as WONDERFUL.

 

For the times when you’re seeking clarity, but all the paths before you are overgrown with weeds . . . may you know Him as COUNSELOR.

 

For the times when you feel powerless, trampled down by the very ones who were supposed to protect you . . . may you know Him as MIGHTY GOD.

 

For the times when you have to say good-bye too soon . . . may you know Him as EVERLASTING.

 

For the times when you are lonely and scared and longing for someone who will love you unconditionally . . . may you know Him as FATHER.

 

For the times when your world is spinning faster than you can keep up, with your soul close behind . . . may you know Him as the PRINCE OF PEACE.

 

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder.

and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

—Isaiah 9:6

 

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Christmas through the Eyes of a Carpenter December 17, 2013

Filed under: Christmas — Stephanie Rische @ 8:10 am
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My family has a unanimously agreed-upon no-Christmas-gifts policy, and my dad hasn’t set foot in a mall since circa 1986, so I was surprised when he told me he had something for me in the basement—something I needed to open before Christmas.

 

Intrigued, I made my way downstairs to find a large lump sitting on the Ping-Pong table, draped unceremoniously with a black garbage bag. I raised an eyebrow at Dad before pulling back the plastic to unveil the mystery item.

 

When I realized what it was, I’m pretty sure I squealed louder than I did the Christmas I was eight and awoke to find my pink-and-purple banana-seat bike under the tree. “It’s a stable!” I exclaimed. “For my nativity set!”

 

Ever since I’d gotten a nativity set, I’d been looking for a stable big enough to fit the figures, but I’d had no success. And since I didn’t want Mary and Joseph and the rest of the crew to look freakishly disproportionate in their Bethlehem abode, thus far the crèche figurines had been without shelter. Until now. Dad, being the handyman he is, had come up with a solution to my dilemma: he’d built a custom-sized stable himself.

 

My dad, Joseph, the carpenter.

 

He pointed out all the details of the stable: the ladder that led to the loft, the perch where a bird could sit, the spotlight that would shine on Baby Jesus, the place where he’d had to cover the blood after cutting his finger. His voice grew animated as he told me that the whole thing was made of found materials—scrap wood, paint-stirring sticks, twigs he and Mom had found in the backyard, sawdust shavings from the basement floor.

 

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On my way home that night, glancing at the work of art in the seat beside me, I couldn’t help but think of another Joseph, another carpenter, another father. Why did God pick Joseph as Jesus’ adoptive father? I wondered. Mary features prominently in the Christmas story, but we don’t hear much about Joseph, and I guess I’d always pictured him as her silent sidekick. But surely God had a reason to write him into the story too.

 

As I thought about my dad pounding and sawing for months leading up to December, it struck me that at a carpenter’s very heart is the ability to believe in a crazy, far-fetched dream. A carpenter is someone who can embrace a vision before it’s a reality, someone who can take ordinary scraps and see them not as they are but as they could be one day. A carpenter is someone who believes the impossible . . . and then gets to work building it.

 

Thousands of years ago, when Joseph heard his fiancée was pregnant, an angel appeared to him in a dream:

 

“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

—Matthew 1:20-21

 

Joseph was given a dream that day—a dream made of ordinary-looking scraps: A pregnant girl. A common laborer. A family without clout or fortune or political connections. A community skeptical of his fiancée’s claims. But somehow Joseph was able to take those found pieces and believe that the God-given vision was true: that this baby really would be the Messiah, the promised one, the one who would save the people from their sins.

 

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.

—Matthew 1:24

 

In the face of the impossible, Joseph rolled up his sleeves and got to work, doing his part to hammer a miraculous dream into reality.

 

So every time I see that stable on my mantel, I’ll think of two Josephs. Like those dreamers, I want to see in the scraps around me the visions God is building in my life. The pieces themselves might not be much to look at on their own. But in the deft hands of the Carpenter, they just might become something beautiful.

 

God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.

—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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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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On the Brink of a Miracle November 26, 2013

Filed under: Faith — Stephanie Rische @ 8:00 am
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I’m privileged to be over at Pick Your Portion today, writing about a beautiful mystery: how Jesus could pull off miracles all on his own, but how he invites us to join him anyway. Here’s a sneak peek…

 

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When I was little—much too little to know the rules of the road, let alone reach the gas pedals—my dad would sneak me onto his lap when he was driving so I could “help.” As soon as we reached the dead-end road leading to our house, he’d put my chubby fingers on the wheel and cover them with his own big hands. I’d squeal in delight as we made our way past the old barn, past the palomino horse’s pen, past the neighbors’ house on the hill, and finally into our driveway.

 

At some level I knew that Dad was the one operating the vehicle, not me, but I thrilled to think he would want my help. And I loved being in such close proximity to him as we embarked on this daring (and unsanctioned-by-mom) adventure. . . .

 

You can read the rest of the story here.

 

 

Gospel Story: A Story of Hope November 22, 2013

Filed under: Gospel Stories — Stephanie Rische @ 4:31 pm
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Two of my great passions in life are helping other people share their stories and seeing God’s extraordinary grace at work through ordinary people. So when I was given the opportunity to be part of the Gospel Stories project at my church, it felt like a beautiful collision of those passions.

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Today I’d like to share Ken and Sally’s remarkable story with you.

 

Have you ever felt like life had you around the neck and then started squeezing? You want to cling to hope; you want to believe that God has good plans for you, but all your circumstances seem to indicate otherwise.

 

Ken and Sally Marino know what it’s like to be hit with one blow after the other. But it has been precisely in the midst of some of those challenges that they’ve experienced the depths of God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises.

 

If you are in need of a breath of hope today, we invite you to watch the Marinos’ story. It’s a story of God’s goodness in hard times, a story of laughter and joy where you might expect tears. And ultimately, it’s a story of hope.

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
—Jeremiah 29:11

 

To watch their story in their own words, see the video here.

 

 

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.”

 

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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.

 

Do You Want to Get Well? November 12, 2013

Filed under: Faith — Stephanie Rische @ 7:59 am
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My nemesis has always been the easy question, the short answer.

 

In school, I despised true/false questions on tests. I’d have been happy to write you an essay, but heaven forbid I had to nail it down to one lousy word. I always managed to overthink it—agonizing over nuances, seeking out potential loopholes, and doing mental gymnastics until my mind (and my eraser) wore thin.

 

When I’m taking opinion surveys, I get equally stressed by number rankings. On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the service? Out of five stars, how much did you like the book? On a scale of 1 to 10, how are you feeling? Again, I could give you a full narrative, brimming with details, but for the love, please don’t make me commit to a cold, hard number.

 

Now that I’m married to a man who is economical with his words, I’ve noticed this pattern of mine rearing its head in less than flattering ways. He’ll ask me a simple question requiring a one-word answer (Yes? No?) and I’ll tell him a story instead, leaving him adrift to translate my answer into checkboxes.

 

The problem seems to be the worst when it comes to admitting I need help. My servant-hearted husband asks things like:

 

Do you need me to run any other errands?

Would you like me to parallel-park the car?

What else needs to be cleaned?

Can I help you?

 

And what should I do in these situations? I should whip out my short answers of YES PLEASE and THANK YOU. But instead I make excuses, give explanations, try to pretend I can handle all of it, all the time.

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I’m sure I’ve read the account of Jesus healing the blind man a bunch of times since my Sunday school days, but something new struck me when I recently read it again.

 

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

 “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

—John 5:6-7

 

Did you catch that? Jesus asks him a simple question—Would you like to get well?—and the guy answers a different question altogether, explaining why it’s impossible.

 

The answer is YES, dude. Yes, you want to get well.

 

Take it from someone who tends to get it wrong: if Jesus asks you if you want to be healed, don’t make excuses. Don’t tell him why it’s impossible. Don’t list all the reasons it won’t work. Don’t go on and on with a story. Just say yes, and let him figure out the rest.

 

So what about our own ailments? Not all of us are battling physical blindness, but there’s no doubt something we need healing from.

 

Do you want to be healed from the worry that plagues you when the clock is stuck at 2 a.m.?

 

Do you want to be healed from the fear that chokes you from spreading your wings to do the very thing you were made to do?

 

Do you want to be healed from the unforgiveness that’s gnawing away at your gut?

 

Do you want to be healed from the wound that was left by the betrayal, the unkind words, the severed relationship?

 

YES. The answer is yes—you want to be well, and so do I. That doesn’t mean all our prayers will magically be answered just the way we want them to. But Jesus is asking. He is ready to heal.

 

Will you say YES?

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Book of the Month Club: Bread and Wine November 1, 2013

Thanks to everyone who joined our book of the month club for October! Our selection was Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, which I introduced here.

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Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few discussion topics, and you can respond about these topics or anything else you’d like to talk about in the comment section below.

 

Discussion #1: A Call to Hospitality

I love the way Shauna reclaims eating together and sharing meals with others as not just something we do to sustain our bodies, but something that feeds the soul as well. “Food is one of the ways we love each other,” she says, “and the table is one of the most sacred places we gather.”

 

Having grown up with a grandma who can do a hundred magical things with a pie crust and her bare hands, and a mom who made every person who crossed the threshold of her home feel welcomed and loved, I have always understood at some intuitive level that the intersection of food and home is where relationships are cultivated and love takes root. But I appreciate the way Shauna puts those feelings into words and affirms the sacredness of hospitality in a world that is increasingly busy and fragmented.

“While it’s not strictly about food, it doesn’t happen without it. Food is the starting point, the common ground, the thing to hold and handle, the currency we offer to one another.”

 

What are your experiences with hospitality and making food for other people? Was that a priority in your family when you were growing up? How have you done things the same or differently in your own home?

 

Discussion #2: A Place for Vulnerability

One of the highlights of the book for me was the way Shauna emphasized that making food and inviting people into your home isn’t a performance; it’s an opportunity to create space for authenticity. When we break bread together, we can slow down, be real, let down our guard.

 

I loved her tradition of sharing toasts on someone’s birthday—saying something that person has brought to your life in the last year or a prayer for the year ahead: “The heart of hospitality is creating space for these moments, protecting that fragile bubble of vulnerability and truth and love. It’s all too rare that we tell the people we love exactly why we love them—what they bring to our lives, why our lives are richer because they’re in it.”

 

I also appreciated the way she made peace with things not going according to her own plans and being open to what God had ordained for the gathering:

“It was just as it should have been, and nothing close to what I could have planned. And that’s what makes a good party—when the evening and the people and the conversation and the feeling in the room are allowed to be whatever they need to be for that night.”

 

Have you ever hosted a party that didn’t go at all the way you planned or expected? Were there any unexpected blessings in that experience?

 

Discussion #3: Embracing a Healthy Relationship with Food

Shauna’s perspective on having a healthy relationship with food was very refreshing, and I especially appreciated her take on how there are some seasons to fast and other seasons to feast.

“I’m learning that feasting can only exist healthfully—physically, spiritually, and emotionally—in a life that also includes fasting. . . . The very things you think you need most desperately are the things that can transform you the most profoundly when you do finally decide to release them.”

 

Do you agree that we all need seasons of both feasting and fasting in our lives? What does that balance look like for you?

 

Discussion #4: Recipes

If I had one complaint about the book, it’s that I sometimes felt like a kitchen slouch when I read it. I know that wasn’t the author’s intent, and I realize the principles apply whether you’re whipping up homemade risotto or making Kraft macaroni and cheese, but sometimes I felt like I couldn’t relate to her stories about dinner parties with lobster and steak au poivre with cognac sauce.

 

That said, I did attempt a few of the recipes, and I appreciated the author’s conversational tone as she talked readers through the recipes. I felt like I had a sister in the kitchen, coaching me through the steps. I made the lentil soup, which wasn’t too hard, even for the likes of me. When my husband tried his first spoonful, he said tactfully, “It tastes like it’s good for me.” But to his credit, he ate it all. I also attempted the blueberry crisp (I made mine it peaches), the scrambled eggs with goat cheese (pretty good, but I prefer my eggs more solid than the recipe calls for), and the toffee (which I’m pretty sure I botched somehow because it just may crack your teeth). There are several others I’d still like to try.

 

Did you try any of the recipes? How did they turn out? Which one should I attempt next?

 

Rating

I would give the book 4.5 stars. I loved the bits about relationships, hospitality, faith, and the sacredness of the table. Maybe I just needed the “for dummies” version for the recipes.

 

4.5 stars

 

How many stars would you give the book?

{Remember: I’ll send a free book to one randomly selected commenter!}

 

Gospel Story: Mike & Amy October 22, 2013

Filed under: Gospel Stories — Stephanie Rische @ 8:09 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Two of my great passions in life are helping other people share their stories and seeing God’s extraordinary grace at work in ordinary people. So when I was given the opportunity to be part of the Gospel Stories project at my church, it felt like a beautiful collision of those passions.

 

Today I’d like to share Mike and Amy’s inspiring story with you.

 

In those quiet moments, when you stand back and take an honest look at yourself—the things you regret, the ways you’ve fallen short, the people you’ve let down—what words flash before your eyes? Selfish? Dishonest? Defeated? Unforgiveable? Maybe you’re afraid that your most significant relationships have been fractured beyond repair, and even worse, you’re too far gone for God to rescue.

 

Mike has been there. He got to a point where he thought his marriage was over and he was beyond hope. But then, after he got a tangible glimpse of God’s grace through this wife, Amy, Mike came to see himself as God sees him: forgiven.

 

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. . . . But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
—Titus 3:3-5

 

You can watch the video of Mike and Amy sharing their incredible story here.

 

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