Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

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.

marino

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.

 

 

Alena’s Story July 19, 2013

Filed under: Gospel Stories — Stephanie Rische @ 10:44 am
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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.

 

Today I’d like to share Alena’s inspiring story with you.

 

alena

Alena’s Story

When we experience pain—whether the pain is physical or emotional—most of us fall to our knees with the same agonizing question on our lips: Why, Lord?

 

At the age of 16, Alena asked the same question when she found herself in constant physical pain, battling a condition that doctors couldn’t seem to nail down and wondering if she’d ever be able to dance again. Why did she have to go through something like this at such a young age? Where was God in the midst of her suffering?

 

It was only when she surrendered to the Lord that she experienced a life-transforming truth: even if God never changed her pain, he was changing her heart. This is the story of how the gospel met Alena at her point of deepest pain and taught her to dance again.

 

O Lord my God, I called out to you for help, and you healed me. . . . You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
—Psalm 30:2, 11

 

Click here to watch Alena’s story in her own words.

 

 

The Floodwaters Are Up to My Neck April 26, 2013

Filed under: Grace — Stephanie Rische @ 12:18 pm
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A state of emergency was declared for my area last week after what can only be described as biblical levels of flooding. The wise among us sought higher ground; the wiser stayed home to bail out basements; the wisest started constructing an ark.

 

And me? I went to work.

 

You’d think I would have turned back when I saw all the cars stalled on the side of the road or when I encountered puddles the size of Lake Michigan. But no, I was determined to get to the office, even if it meant I’d have to swim there.

 flood1

 

When I finally arrived, after countless detours and some heroic efforts on the part of my little car, I was dismayed to find the parking lot impassable. That would have been another prime opportunity to turn back, but I doggedly pressed on. After parking on an elevated side street, I grabbed my coffee and umbrella and traipsed through the wet slop in my heels.

 

Everything was going swimmingly, so to speak, until I got to the raging river I had to cross to make it to the entrance. I did my best to calculate the jump but failed to take into account the fact that the ground was roughly the consistency of maple syrup. As soon as I hit the other side, I heard it before I felt it: slurp! Sure enough, my entire foot, heel and all, had been sucked underground. I tried to steady myself, and slurp!—the other foot surrendered to the mud.

 

I finally got inside, tights dripping and shoes full of sludge. How was I going to make it through the day with sopping feet? That’s when my stroke of genius hit: The hand dryer! After twenty minutes of standing in the restroom on alternating feet, my shoes finally stopped making gurgling noises each time I took a step.

 

Then, just as I exited the restroom, I heard the announcement: “Our office will be closed today. Please leave now to ensure you will be able to get your car out.”

 

And so it was time to turn around and cross the temporary creek again.

 

I found the whole escapade entertaining since the damage for me was limited to my pride and a pair of tights. But as I started getting calls from friends and family and hearing news reports about the wreckage people had sustained, the gravity of the situation began to sink in.

flood2

 

And so it is with the personal floods we face—the loss of a job, the severing of a relationship, the chokehold of grief, the dailyness of life. The floodwaters creep higher and higher, and we feel certain they’re going to pull us under. And even worse, God seems to stand far off in the distance, sending no rescue boat our way.

 

The psalmist David knew firsthand how lonely that drowning sensation can feel. Here’s the prayer he offered in the midst of his own flood:

 

Save me, O God,

for the floodwaters are up to my neck.

Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;

I can’t find a foothold.

I am in deep water,

and the floods overwhelm me. . . .

Rescue me from the mud;

don’t let me sink any deeper!

Save me from those who hate me,

and pull me from these deep waters.

Don’t let the floods overwhelm me,

or the deep waters swallow me.

—Psalm 69:1-2, 15

 

flood3

 

Even if our floodwaters recede and the immediate crisis passes, it’s not over. There’s still the muddy aftermath to deal with—bailing out the basement, evaluating the damage, determining if anything can be salvaged, beginning the tedious cleanup process.

Sometimes it just feels like too much.

 

In those post-flood moments, we have a choice.

Will we give up and sink into the mire?

Or will trust that God will rescue us, even when no rescue is in sight?

 

Answer my prayers, O Lord,

for your unfailing love is wonderful.

Take care of me,

for your mercy is so plentiful.

—Psalm 69:16

 

If you find the floodwaters swirling around your neck today, take heart. God will take care of you; he will show you his unfailing love. And when you are stuck in the basement of life, dealing with the flood’s messy aftermath, may you discover his mercy among the ruins.

 

 

Small Beginnings October 2, 2012

Filed under: Zechariah — Stephanie Rische @ 8:14 am
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My friend Catherine and I were in the midst of planning the annual Plaid Flannel Party when she paused mid-sentence and said to me, “You know we make such a good team? I’m a starter, and you’re a finisher!”

We cracked up, but it was true. Catherine has a gift for brainstorming creative ideas and giving them an energetic launch. I, on the other hand, often feel daunted by the beginning of something big and tend to be shy about pulling the trigger. But once things are in motion, I enjoy carrying the event out to completion.

As someone who can feel daunted by the beginning of things, I can relate to the Israelites who felt intimidated as they started the monumental task of rebuilding the Temple.

Perhaps you find yourself at a daunting starting point right now yourself, wondering how you’ll ever make it to the finish line. The wall is so big, the rocks are so heavy, the progress is so slow, and it’s tempting to give up. It would be easier, less risky, to just quit now. My message to you is the same one God gave to the Israelites all those years ago:

Do not despise these small beginnings.

—Zechariah 4:10

Maybe you have a toddler who is defying you at every turn. You’re trying to set firm boundaries, but it feels like you have to battle for every inch of progress.

Do not despise these small beginnings.

Maybe you’re trying to get out of debt, but the shovel is so small and the hole is so deep.

Do not despise these small beginnings.

Maybe you’re recovering from surgery, and healing seems like it’s light years away.

Do not despise these small beginnings.

Maybe you’ve been praying earnestly for someone you love, but so far you’ve seen only sporadic glimmers of hope.

Do not despise these small beginnings.

Maybe you’re trying to change something about yourself that is so deeply embedded you’re not sure change is even possible.

Do not despise these small beginnings.

Whatever daunting challenge you are facing today, may you know that God delights in your efforts, even those small beginnings. And I pray that along the way you will have friends who come beside you—a starter to encourage you to begin, and a finisher to help you end strong.

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.

 

When Skeletons Come to Life… September 21, 2012

Filed under: Ezekiel — Stephanie Rische @ 4:38 pm
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I’ve always felt a little sorry for some of those Old Testament prophets. Not just because their teachers no doubt mispronounced their funky-sounding names in class, but because their lives were often used as rather startling object lessons. A few cases in point: Hosea was told to marry a prostitute; Isaiah had to walk around naked and barefoot for three years; and Jeremiah was given orders to bury his underwear in a hole by the river until it rotted.

The prophet Ezekiel was no exception. For him, the object lesson was about a heap of bones:

[The Lord] led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”

 

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”

—Ezekiel 37:2-3

 

His response is precisely why I’m no prophet (aside from my pronounceable name). I would have said something like, “Um, God, no offense, but those bones look really, officially, 100% dead.” But Ezekiel said, in essence, “I don’t know if you will bring those bones to life. But I know you can.”

Maybe right now you feel like nothing more than a heap of dried-out bones. You feel certain that it’s game over, that all hope is gone.

But here’s what God says:

 

Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

—Ezekiel 37:5-6

 

We serve a God who is stronger than anything. Even death. And if he can bring a pile of dry bones to life, I’m pretty sure he can do anything.

He can bring your lost child home.

He can heal that relationship that seems broken beyond repair.

He can dig out the splinter that is lodged deep in your heart.

He can raise up your buried dreams.

He can bring dead things back to life.

Oh God, put your breath into us. Bring us back to life. And we will know that you are the Lord.

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.

 

The Most Daring Act in the World September 18, 2012

Filed under: Lamentations — Stephanie Rische @ 4:34 pm
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Louie Zamperini did a lot of daring things in his life. As I devoured the pages of Unbroken, which chronicles the story of his life, I found myself continually amazed that the book is nonfiction. How could one person bravely withstand so many hardships…and live to tell about it?

As a bombardier in World War II, Louie valiantly embarked on missions in the Pacific, knowing that his craft could be shot down at any moment by Japanese planes or face the equally dangerous prospect of mechanical failure over the vast ocean. But his battles in the war were only the beginning. He survived a fiery plane crash. He fended off sharks with his bare hands. He faced starvation, extreme heat, and enemy fire. He endured emotional and physical torture in a POW camp.

But in my mind, none of those things, heroic as they are, constitute his most daring act.

No, his most daring act was that he hoped.

Louie hoped when it was ludicrous, possibly even insane, to keep on hoping. Every time something good comes his way and you think he’ll finally get his break, things blow up in his face. Yet somehow he never gives up hoping.

When the few chocolate bars—the only food left for the three men stranded on the raft—was scarfed down in a single sitting by one of his fellow survivors, Louie didn’t give up hope.

When their precious bait was snatched up by greedy sharks, he didn’t give up hope. When he managed to grab a large seabird with his bare hands and the meat turned out to be inedible, he didn’t give up hope.

When the plane that flew overhead turned out to be enemy aircraft instead of their salvation, he still didn’t give up hope—not even when the plane opened fire and their raft became riddled with bullet holes.

It wasn’t long before Louie’s friend and fellow survivor Mac gave up. But still Louie held on:

Given the dismal record of raft-bound men, Mac’s despair was reasonable. What is remarkable is that [Louie], who shared Mac’s plight, didn’t share his hopelessness….It had not yet occurred to him that he might die.

Yes, this was Louie’s most daring act: he hoped against all odds, against all evidence to the contrary.

At first blush, the book of Lamentations seems to be strictly a chronicle of sorrow and hopelessness. Jerusalem, God’s chosen city, and even the holy Temple have been destroyed. The people have been taken into captivity at the hands of the Babylonians. As the prophet Jeremiah looks bleakly into the future, he is consumed with grief:

For all these things I weep;
tears flow down my cheeks.
No one is here to comfort me;
any who might encourage me are far away….
I have cried until the tears no longer come;
my heart is broken.
My spirit is poured out in agony.
—Lamentations 1:16; 2:11

This is pretty much what you’d expect from a book with a name like Lamentations, what you’d expect from someone who is mourning the desolation of his beloved city. The shocking part—the daring part—comes out of nowhere, in chapter 3. In the midst of the prophet’s laments, he suddenly does a 180 and bursts out with an incredible yet:

Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
—Lamentations 3:21-24

 

Like Louie, the prophet dared to hope when those around him could see only despair.

Today I pray that you will make the daring decision to hope. Against all odds. Against all evidence to the contrary.

May you have hope that your tragedy will end but that the Lord’s love never will.

May you have hope that the morning will come again, and so will his mercies.

May you have hope that his faithfulness is greater than whatever struggle you’re up against.

And when all hope is gone, may you have hope that he will plant new hope in your soul again.

 

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.

 

“Even Though” Prayers August 21, 2012

Filed under: Habakkuk — Stephanie Rische @ 8:13 am
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I was once part of a small group that was stuck in a rut, and in an attempt to shake things up, we decided to study one of the minor prophets. On something of a whim, we landed on the book of Habakkuk, not entirely sure what we were stumbling into.

As it happened, the book turned out to be a bit of a downer. In you had to boil down the prophet’s message into a couple of key points, you’d probably end up with something cheery like judgment and destruction. According to some commentaries, one third of the book can be categorized in a genre called “an oracle of woe.” Not exactly what you might call a beach read.

But as our group talked about the book, we were struck by its authenticity—the raw way the author cried out to God about the injustices he saw and begged God to act on behalf of his people. The book of Habakkuk is heart-wrenchingly honest, and achingly beautiful.

Ultimately the prophet didn’t get all his questions answered; he never fully grasped what God was up to. But he concluded with a song of trust—the kind of trust that moves in when human understanding fails.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,

and there are no grapes on the vines;

even though the olive crop fails,

and the fields lie empty and barren;

even though the flocks die in the fields,

and the cattle barns are empty,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord!

I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

—Habakkuk 3:17-18

Sometimes I wonder what Habakkuk would have written if he’d lived several thousand years later, in our era. These days most of us don’t grow fig trees or rely on an olive grove for our livelihood. But such a song of trust rings just as true for us today, regardless of our situation.

Even though the job prospects are drying up

And there is no money in the bank…

 

Even though another treatment has failed

And doctors have exhausted all other options …

 

Even though another month has gone by

And the crib remains empty and barren…

 

Even though another lonely night has passed

And the other side of the bed remains empty…

 

Even though another prayer has been offered

And the heavens reply in stony silence…

 

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord!

I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

Whatever “even thoughs” you find yourself up against today, may you cling to that ever-gracious “yet.”

 

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.

 

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.

 

God’s Underground Work March 31, 2012

Filed under: Spring — Stephanie Rische @ 2:43 pm
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When I was living in my first place after college, I made the rather impulsive decision one Sunday afternoon to buy a package of daffodil bulbs. It was only after I arrived home that I realized I didn’t have anything even closely resembling a shovel. But by that point I was determined to make the bulb-planting happen. Today.

So I pulled out an old knife and thought, How hard can this be? As it turned out, digging 12 inches into the dirt might as well have been muscling to the center of the earth when you’re using a dull kitchen blade. By the time I was ready to drop the final bulb in the ground, my arms were aching and my knees and hands were caked with dirt, but I was feeling pretty satisfied.

Then I took my first real look at the brown, dead-looking thing in my palm. I’d seen plenty of daffodils in the past, and presumably they’d all started out this way, but suddenly I was assailed by doubts. How could something that looked like a rotting turnip be transformed into a sunny, yellow flower? But with a shrug I put the last bulb in the dirt and went inside to retire the now-worthless knife.

I promptly forgot about my little gardening experiment…until the next April. One day I looked out my back window, and to my surprise, a small but tenacious sprout was trying to poke its head out of the cold, unforgiving earth.

Isn’t that a picture of what God does with our lives too? To a casual observer, we look dead, ugly, hopeless. But God doesn’t give up on us. During those seasons when we’re all but buried, when it looks like Satan has won after all—that’s precisely when God does his best redemptive work. He uses those months under the cover of soil to build us up, make us strong, prepare us for who he wants us to be.

And when the first hint of spring arrives, we will stick out our heads, tentatively at first, and then with increasing boldness. As our faces open to the Son, he will transform us. From despair to hope. From death to new life.

And we, turnipy-looking things that we are, will be a tangible display of his glorious grace.