Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Happy (Thirty) Sixth Birthday to Me October 4, 2013

Filed under: birthday — Stephanie Rische @ 7:46 am
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Thirty years ago today—my 6th birthday—the Worst Birthday Disaster Ever turned into my Best Birthday Party Ever. (Because obviously, when you’re six, the world is one big superlative.)

 

When September rolled around, Mom said, “It’s time to start thinking about your birthday!” just as she did every year. So we sat down at the kitchen table and went through the annual checklist to pull off a party personalized just for me. And as always, I felt like the most special girl in the whole world.

 

What theme do you want for your party? (I must have had some undue influence from Rainbow Brite, because the theme always seemed to include some variation of rainbows and hearts.)

 

What shape do you want for your cake? (Yes, Mom made it from scratch.)

 

What flavor do you want for the cake? (Cherry. Every single time.)

 

Everything was nailed down, and I could feel my little heart fluttering in anticipation.

 

But then came the final question:

Who do you want to invite to your party?

 

I swallowed hard. “Mom,” I said, “I wish my birthday was in the spring, not the fall.”

 

She looked at me quizzically. “Why, honey?”

 

“It’s too early in the year. I don’t have friends yet.”

 Birthday 1-1

 

And it was true. I was the slow-to-warm-up kid, the shy girl, the one who stood on the outskirts at recess until she worked up the confidence to break in sometime around second semester.

 

Mom didn’t miss a beat. “No problem,” she said. “We’ll just invite all the girls in your class.”

 

There was no trace of panic in her eyes, but looking back now, I have to wonder if she was secretly hyperventilating. How on earth would she fit 16 girls in our house?

 

But at the age of almost-six, I didn’t notice. My eyes were already dancing with visions of hearts and rainbows. In an instant, through the magic of Mom’s words, I’d gone from having zero friends to having 15.

 

And when it was time to blow out the candles on my heart-shaped cake, surrounded by every single girl in my class, I felt so happy I might as well have swallowed a rainbow whole. For once, everything seemed so perfect I could hardly think of anything to wish for. I remember offering a halfhearted wish for the ultimate icing on the day: an actual rainbow in the sky.

 

But I have a hunch God gave priority to a mom’s prayers in that moment. A mom who was whispering prayers for the heart of a little girl who wanted a friend. A mom who was making a wish herself—for a day free of rain (and accompanying rainbows) so there would be room for 16 little girls in party hats at the table outside.

 

This is 30 years late, but thanks, Mom. Thanks for the Best Birthday Party Ever.

 Birthday 2-1

 

The Knife September 24, 2013

In my role as an editor, I’ve been dubbed “The Knife” by a few select people. It may sound a bit harsh at first, especially since if you know me, you know I don’t enjoy inflicting pain. (Case in point: as much as I love bacon, I’ve been known to go vegetarian at pig roasts because I can’t bear the thought of eating little Porky once I’ve seen his face.)

 

But there’s something to the nickname, because ultimately an editor is a surgeon . . . someone who identifies the parts that are sick, decaying, or sucking the life out of a manuscript, and then ever so carefully removes them. For some manuscripts, this looks like major amputation, followed by the grafting-in of new content. Other manuscripts require the use of a smaller knife for more intricate incisions.

knife1

 

As gentle and careful as a surgeon might be, there’s no getting around it: the knife hurts. It’s never pleasant to have a part of yourself sliced into or lopped off. But the alternative is worse. It’s better to have someone who cares about you do surgery than to let the infection worsen and potentially creep to other parts of the body (or manuscript) as well.

 

Lately I went through the eye-opening experience of having the tables turned. Instead of the knife being in my own hand, this time I was on the receiving end of the edits. And you know what? It hurt to be on the operating table. But in the best possible way. That’s how it feels when you hear truth from someone who loves you. Good hurt.

 

Wounds from a sincere friend

are better than many kisses from an enemy.

—Proverbs 27:6

knife2

 

As in manuscripts, so it is in life. Although there’s a part of me that wants to bury my head in the sand and hide my vulnerable places in front of others, deep down I really want to know my weak spots. I want someone to gently point out my blind spots. It’s the only way I know to grow.

 

Right now I’m reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, and she talks a lot about the power of making ourselves vulnerable before others. “Courage,” she says, “starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

knife4

 

Maybe you don’t need a literal editor or a surgeon right now, but in what ways do you need to show up and let yourself be seen? Where do you need to let down your guard? Where do you need to allow other people speak truth into your life?

 

If we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. . . . To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.

—Brené Brown

 

If we’re going to grow and dare and live brave, then we need to put ourselves on the operating table every once in a while . . . and entrust our friends with the knife.

 

knife3

 

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?

 

firefly4

 

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

 

My Husband, Good Sam June 26, 2013

Filed under: Friends — Stephanie Rische @ 8:14 am
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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.

daniel and steph6

 

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.

 

 

Advent Prayers December 21, 2012

Filed under: 1 Corinthians,2 Timothy,Romans — Stephanie Rische @ 12:01 pm
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xmas4

 

As I read Paul’s letters to the early churches, I’m uncovering an intriguing thread I never noticed before. I’ve heard plenty about Paul’s deep theology, his sometimes controversial teachings, his practical instructions…but I guess I’ve never thought much about his prayers.

 

Oh my word, his prayers.

 

Paul opens just about every letter to the early churches with heartfelt prayers for them, and let me tell you, this guy was a praying powerhouse. His words are filled with faithful requests, soaring blessings, and most of all, extravagant thanksgiving.

 

A few cases in point:

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you.

—Romans 1:8-9

 

I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus.

—1 Corinthians 1:4

 

I thank God for you….Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

—2 Timothy 1:3

 

I am a prayer novice at best—or more aptly, a prayer slacker. When I read Paul’s prayers, I am reminded just how milquetoast my prayers are. I ask God to bless my loved ones, and I come to him on their behalf when they’re in some kind of pain or trouble. But how often do I spend time just thanking God for them?

 

During Lent, my husband, Daniel, and I prayed for one person or family each day leading up to Easter (you can read the story here). It was such a rich experience that we wanted to find a way to mark the Advent season too. So each evening before dinner, we toss aside the bills and junk mail to find the Christmas cards and letters and photos we received from friends and family that day. Then we pray for those people.

 

I confess that our prayers don’t come close to Paul’s stirring masterpieces, but maybe God doesn’t mind so much. And while we’ve always enjoyed our loved ones’ updates and pictures, there seems to be a deeper layer to it this year. I have to wonder if this prayer habit just may be opening our eyes to how much we have to thankful for.

 

Thank you, God, for my grandparents, who once again got their letters written, addressed, and mailed while I was still eating Thanksgiving leftovers.

 

Thank you for boy #4 for our friends this year, and for the impish joy on all those kids’ faces.

 

Thank you for little Allie, with her dad’s brown eyes and her mom’s sparkly imagination.

 

Thank you for Emery, the miracle baby who was born this year—the bubbly, smiling, rolling-over answer to so many prayers.

 

Thank you for Lauren and her annual quotables (“Now that my room is clean, I can stop, drop, and roll if there’s a fire—and not get hurt!”).

 

I don’t say it enough, but thank you, God, for the people you’ve put in our lives. Help me to keep saying thanks all year, even after all the Christmas cards are put away.

 xmas3

 

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.