Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

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.

 

 

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.

girls2

 

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.

girls5

 

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.

girls3

 

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.

girls6

 

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

 

Big Hope June 29, 2012

Filed under: 2 Kings — Stephanie Rische @ 1:09 pm
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  A few weeks ago my husband, Daniel, and I went to our friends’ house to introduce ourselves to the latest addition to their family—an adorable eight-pound bundle, newly arrived from the hospital and decked out in a duck-themed onesie.

We asked his parents if there was any special meaning to his name, and we found out that his first name means “Big Hope” in Korean. As I held him, I looked in his eyes—wide and unblinking, taking in everything with solemn contemplation. Big Hope. So much hope wrapped in something so small.

Not long after our visit, I was talking to my Tuesday prayer buddy. We’ve been praying over one thing consistently ever since we started meeting. Week after week, year after year. “I’ve been wondering,” she said. “What’s the point of hoping?” The question wasn’t bitter, nor did it stem from a lack of belief. She was asking genuinely, almost pragmatically. “Is there any real benefit to hoping?”

The woman from Shunem described in 2 Kings 4 had the same question. She and her husband had shown hospitality to the prophet Elisha whenever he was in town, and he wanted to do something for her in return for her kindness. She insisted that she didn’t need anything—she had a pretty good life already. But Elisha heard that she had no children, and he knew immediately the perfect gift for her:

Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!”

 “No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.”

—2 Kings 4:15-16

Sure enough, though, she had a son, just as Elisha had promised. The miracle came true. Her hopes were fulfilled. But that’s not the end of the story.

When the boy was older, he was working out in the field with his father, and he suddenly became ill and died. The woman from Shunem went straight to Elisha, and she had a few words for him.

She said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”

—2 Kings 4:28

Like my friend, this woman couldn’t see any advantage to hoping. If you don’t hope for something and God delivers, it’s a pleasant surprise, right? And if that longed-for thing doesn’t happen, well, then, maybe it prevents a little piece of your heart from breaking.

Our friends were taken aback to discover that in the United States, Hope is exclusively a girl’s name. I guess I’d never given that much consideration, but come to think of it, it does seem a little strange. What kind of commentary does that offer our view of hope? Does the fact that we don’t name our boys Big Hope reflect that we consider it lightweight? Dainty, even?

The poet Emily Dickinson didn’t do much for hope’s macho image when she described it as “the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul.” Our lexicon betrays our own fluffy interpretation: “I hope it won’t rain.” “I hope he’ll call me.” “I hope that semi coming toward me gets back on his side of the road.” We treat hope like so much wishful thinking, a feather that falls haphazardly wherever it chooses.

After doing a little digging about hope, I was intrigued to discover that in church history, the image used to depict it was pretty much the opposite of a feather: an anchor (Hebrews 6:19). Up until around the fifth century AD, it was one of the main symbols for Christianity, more prevalent than a cross. Believers in the first century even had the image of an anchor etched into their tombs as a symbol of the eternal hope they clung to.

I have to wonder if hope isn’t so much about the thing we’re hoping for itself but a tether to keep us close to the Granter of Hopes. Without hope, we drift aimlessly in the big ocean of doubt and fear and uncertainty. The woman from Shunem did get her son back—he was miraculously brought back to life. But whether or not God gives us the specific thing we long for, I believe hope is worth it. Hope pulls us back in, close to the heart of the one who anchors our souls.

I pray that hope as an anchor for you, my Tuesday friend. And on the days you can’t hang on yourself, I will hold on to hope on your behalf.

Big Hope.

“Hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky….Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency.”
—Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Question: Is there something you are hoping for? If you are having trouble hanging on to hope right now, I would be honored to pray for you.

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.

 

Inconvenient Friends May 5, 2012

Filed under: 1 Samuel — Stephanie Rische @ 9:47 am
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Someone once told me there are three types of friends: Christmas Card Friends (the ones you’d like to see a photo of each year but that’s sufficient), 7-11 Friends (the ones who are convenient but you probably won’t call them at 2 a.m.), and Kidney Donor Friends (the ones you’d give one of your kidneys to, if need be).

 

The year I turned 25, I realized how much I needed those Kidney Donor Friends. Even though my kidneys were functioning just fine, thank you.

 

Within the span of a few months, my two best friends got married and so did my little brother, and my baby sister packed her bags and headed off to college. Making matters worse in my litany of first-world single-girl problems, one of the friends who had gotten hitched was my former roommate. Which meant I was living alone, for the first time in my life.

 

***

 

If anyone was in need of a faithful, kidney-level friend, it was David. He’d had his share of successes—killing a giant, notching some significant battle victories, and being anointed the future king. But now the current king, Saul, was trying to kill him, and he was forced to flee the very country he was supposed to rule someday.

 

Strangely, it was Saul’s son—the heir apparent—who showed David true friendship. On more than one occasion, and at great risk to himself, Jonathan saved his friend’s life, effectively handing over the crown that should have been his.

 

***

 

After a few weeks of general moping and ringing up astronomical electric bills trying to scare away would-be boogeymen, I decided something needed to change. And in my experience, change feels so much more novel if it comes in the form of a movement…or better yet, a campaign. So I dubbed my little program the ALC: the Anti-Loneliness Campaign.

 

The premise was simple: I knew that anytime I was feeling low, I would get a case of emotional amnesia, and I’d forget all the people who loved me. So I put a list on my refrigerator with names on it—people who agreed to let me call them anytime, night or day, in a crisis or for no reason at all. I even asked these people to sign my refrigerator covenant (yes, I have forebearing friends). That way whenever I heard the whispers that I was utterly alone, that no one loved me, those signatures could tell me otherwise.

 

Jonathan made David reaffirm his vow of friendship again, for Jonathan loved David as he loved himself.

—1 Samuel 20:17

 

If David had had a refrigerator, I have no doubt he would have posted his vow of friendship there.

 

***

One of the unexpected perks of the ALC, aside from discovering that I really did have Kidney Donor Friends, was the way their faithfulness reminded me of God’s faithfulness. The same seemed to be true for David. After he and Jonathan said their good-byes, David fled from Saul and hid in a cave. From there he wrote a heart-wrenching psalm about the enemies who had set a trap for him and how weary he was. But shortly thereafter his psalm turns a corner:

My heart is confident in you, O God;

my heart is confident.

No wonder I can sing your praises!

—Psalm 57:6-7

 

Scripture doesn’t specifically say this, but I have to wonder if it was Jonathan’s friendship, at least in part, that helped David believe God hadn’t left him after all.

 

I have since taken the ALC papers off the fridge, and I hope I never need to call in a kidney favor from one of my friends. But I’m grateful to know that I am never truly alone. Like David, my heart can be confident in my God.

 

***

 

Question: Do you have a Kidney Donor Friend?

 

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.

 

A Soft Place to Land February 7, 2012

Filed under: Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 7:55 am
Tags: ,

For one hour every Tuesday, no matter how wildly the storms of life are howling around me, I have a soft patch of grass to land on. Every girl should be so lucky.

It all started rather bumblingly, to tell you the truth. My friend and I were both feeling the need for someone to pray with, but we didn’t quite know how to go about it. I mean, really, who wants to intentionally set themselves up to be vulnerable and self-conscious on a weekly basis? Besides which neither of us felt like particularly good pray-ers, and I for one knew I’d never be able to deliver organized “bullet-point” prayers. My requests, such as they are, tend to come more in the form of rambling emotional spew than neatly packaged prayer points.

But God was hounding us, and we couldn’t seem to escape the idea. So one Tuesday we started meeting during our lunch hour. We unceremoniously told God that our end of the deal would be to show up, and he would be responsible for the rest.

That first meeting was precisely two years ago, and we’ve been meeting every week since.

Over the past 100 or so Tuesdays, my prayers haven’t really gotten better. I’m still rambly, still unpolished, still haphazard (and un-bulleted) in my approach. But to my surprise, my friend accepts me, rambly prayers and all. Even better, I have found through this messy process that God isn’t necessarily looking for polish either. I don’t think he minds that we put our prayers out there in their rawest form, trusting that he’ll sort them out somewhere between here and his ear.

So wherever you are in your prayer journey, I encourage you to take a leap and find your own Tuesdays-at-noon buddy. I trust you’ll find the landing cushioned by grace.