Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

10 Minutes with God, Part 2 January 28, 2014

Filed under: Scripture Reflections — Stephanie Rische @ 7:59 am
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I had the privilege of writing the devotions for my church’s series on Psalm 119 again last week. The theme for the week was “The Way of Understanding.”


Here’s a peek at the beginning of one of the devotions:




The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

—Psalm 119:130


As we look back over the course of human history, it’s striking how universal the quest is to find direction for our lives.


Horoscopes and the zodiac calendar have been around since the sixth century BC as methods of divination.

According to some estimates, Americans spend about $300 million a year on psychic hotlines.

Around one million Magic 8 balls are sold each year.


These attempts at seeking guidance range from pure nonsense to practices God has specifically commanded his people not to dabble in. But their very existence indicates two truths about human nature: (1) we want someone wiser than we are to show us the way and (2) we want the quick answer, the shortcut….


To read more, you can click here. You can listen to the audio version here.



The Wind in My Sails August 21, 2013

Filed under: Grace,Unexpected Lessons — Stephanie Rische @ 8:17 am
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“Wanna know what this bucket is for?” the seasoned sailor asked, throwing a pointed glance in my direction.


He was taking us out in his sailboat on Lake Michigan, and I was the only one in the group who had never been sailing before. Apparently he was afraid I’d be green in more ways than one.



I did my best to laugh, desperately hoping I wouldn’t need the bucket.


Then it was the sailor’s turn to laugh. “Oh, this bucket isn’t for you—it’s to clean up the deck afterward!”


On the way to the boat, we were regaled with sailing stories—about the time his boat flipped over in gale-force winds, the time the fog was so dense he couldn’t find his way back to the dock, the time he was several miles from land in the middle of a lightning storm. I was feeling queasy already, and we hadn’t even set foot onboard.


I tried to prep myself for every possible scenario. But when we finally got out onto the water, we encountered the one situation I hadn’t envisioned: everything was utterly still. I held my face up to the sky but couldn’t detect so much as a hint of a breeze.


There we were, sitting in the middle of the huge lake—normally filled with cresting whitecaps but on that day looking as smooth as glass. The sails hung limp and lifeless above us.


The sailboat boasted every possible gadget you could imagine—a GPS that told you exactly where you were in relation to your destination, a gauge that read the temperate both in the air and in the water, a sensory device that detected the depth of the water and how many fish were camping out beneath the surface. But none of it mattered if we couldn’t leave the shoreline. We had no manmade gadget that could perform the function of the wind. (Although my husband, funny guy that he is, tired his best to fill his lungs and blow on the sails in an attempt to create some action.)



It turned out to be a lovely, if anticlimactic, afternoon on the water. But as we basked in the sun and ate a picnic lunch on the idle boat, it got me to thinking about the Holy Spirit, of all things.


The Bible often uses wind as a metaphor to describe the way God works. Like the wind, a tiny puff of his breath has power to set us in motion, to move us forward, to change our course. We may not be able to see him, but there’s no denying it when we’re in the wake of what he’s doing.


Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind . . . so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things.

—Ecclesiastes 11:5


Our boat outing revealed a nautical and spiritual truth: if God’s Spirit isn’t breathing power into a venture, no amount of huffing and puffing on my part will make it move.


The breath of God isn’t something we can control. But we can be ready for it—we can embrace it when it comes. His breath is a gift of movement, a gift of direction, a gift of power. Ultimately, it is the breath of grace.




The Stephanie Sandwich August 4, 2012

Filed under: Isaiah — Stephanie Rische @ 10:27 am
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When I was a kid, our church had one of those “harvest festivals,” where you have all the candy and fun parts of Halloween, minus the ghosts and witches. Rumor had it the main attraction would be the giant cardboard-box maze that would cover the entire church basement. My little brother and I were ecstatic.


My mom volunteered to help coordinate the event, so we went to church with her for the afternoon. While she decorated and prepped food, Kyle and I scoped out the maze. It was even more colossal than we’d dreamed, with countless twists and turns and dead ends. Even so, we felt up to the challenge. After all, I was pretty big stuff now that I’d turned double digits.


Things were a little dicey at first. We took one wrong turn after another until we had no choice but to break out of the boxes and stand up to get our bearings in the fluorescent-lit basement. We pressed on until we finally made our way to the end of the maze. Once we had the route down, we practiced it tirelessly for the rest of the day, and by the time Mom was ready to take us home to change into our costumes, we were confident we could make it through blindfolded, maybe even backward. Not that I was one to brag.


But when we came back later that evening, somehow everything looked different. The basement was pitch dark, with strobe lights flashing and creepy music blaring, interspersed with recorded shrieks and laughter. I mustered up an internal pep talk, reminding myself that I’d completed this maze dozens of times that very day. And besides, as the older sister, I had to put on a brave face in front of my brother.


We got in line and anxiously awaited our turn. When we got to the front of the line, the chaperone asked if we were sure we wanted to do this. His doubt only increased my resolve. Of course I was big enough to do this! I took hold of my brother’s hand, and we ducked into the maze.


We were only a few steps in before I decided there was no way this was the same maze we’d practiced earlier that day. Surely someone had rerouted the whole thing while we were home changing! I would never have admitted it out loud, but I was more terrified than I’d been in my entire decade of living.


Despite my big-sister bravado, I knew it was time to admit defeat. Kyle and I backed out to the starting point and went to bob for apples.


Then a family friend, a high schooler, came to our rescue and volunteered to take us through the maze. I was skeptical at first, seeing as I was still a bit rattled by the whole experience. But he assured me we could make a train: I would hold on to his ankles and Kyle would hold my ankles. We’d be in this together. And so we made it through the maze, with Kyle as the caboose and me sandwiched in the middle.


Sometimes the scariest thing when we’re up against a difficult situation isn’t the situation itself but feeling like we’re facing the blackness and creepy noises alone. We reach out in front of us, and we can’t see a thing. We glance over our shoulders, and it seems like an empty wasteland from behind. We feel exposed, vulnerable to attack.


After Israel was captured and exiled to Assyria, they felt that same sense of abandonment and isolation. But through the words of the prophet Isaiah, God reminded them that they weren’t alone.


Get out! Get out and leave your captivity….

You will not leave in a hurry,

running for your lives.

For the Lord will go ahead of you;

yes, the God of Israel will protect you from behind.

—Isaiah 52:11-12


God promised to go both ahead of his people and behind them. As they crawled through the dark, scary places, they could hold on to his ankles, knowing he would guard them from anything that jumped out in front of them or snuck up from behind.


Whatever dark mazes you’re facing today, may you know that God goes before you to guide you. Behind you to protect you. And that you are sandwiched safely in the middle.


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.


God’s Gracious GPS January 20, 2012

Filed under: Genesis — Stephanie Rische @ 4:57 pm
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I’m pretty decent at directions…so long as Tom-Tom is in the passenger seat next to me. Yes, Tom-Tom, the other man in my life. As long as his robotic voice pipes up, telling me, “In 200 yards, turn left,” I can navigate myself to pretty much anywhere on the map. But if for some reason he runs out of juice, I am in a world of hurt.

The problem isn’t just that I get turned around; it’s that my entire internal compass is catawampus. I’ll approach to a fork in the road and feel the overwhelming urge to turn right…when that’s precisely the opposite way I need to go.

Alas, my spiritual GPS can be just as catawampus. Everything in my gut might be telling me to go one way when the Spirit is clearly saying the opposite.

Remember that story about Lot in Genesis? I’ve always been so distracted by the image of apocalyptic fire and Mrs. Lot being turned into a salt shaker that I never noticed what happens later in the chapter—almost as a postscript.

When the angel directs Lot and his family out of the city, he tells them to escape to the mountains. But Lot, in all his navigational bluster, is sure that’s the wrong way. “I cannot go to the mountains,” he says. “Disaster would catch up to me there, and I would soon die” (Genesis 19:19).

It’s only ten verses later that we see Lot make a U-turn and head—where else?—to the mountains: “Lot left Zoar because he was afraid of the people there, and he went to live in a cave in the mountains with his two daughters” (Genesis 19:30).

Why, I wonder, do I presume to know which way is up, all the while doubting the one with the power to send the fire and sulfur in the first place? And perhaps more to the point, why don’t I listen the first time around? Yes, God is gracious about second chances, but it would be so much simpler not to have to pack up twice.

Maybe this isn’t just about my directional impairments, after all; maybe it’s also about who I believe God to be. When he directs me away from a certain path, I wrongly assume it’s because he’s some kind of killjoy. The reality, however, is that he may be blocking that path to protect me.

So this year I want to do better at listening to God’s gracious directions the first time around. It would save me a lot of effort…and I sure won’t miss that patient reprimand: “Recalculating route…”