Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

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.

 

stable1

 

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

stable2

 

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.

 tyler4

 

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!”

 tyler1

 

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…

 

PYP 11-13

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.

 healing3

 

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?

healing1

 

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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On Grace and Ketchup August 9, 2013

Filed under: Grace — Stephanie Rische @ 10:12 am
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Forgive me for being sacrilegious, but every time I sing “Jesus Paid It All,” I can’t help but think about ketchup.

 

My husband played his bass at church last week, and we sang the lines of that old classic spiritual:

 

Jesus paid it all

All to him I owe

Sin had left a crimson stain

He washed it white as snow

 

While other people were no doubt musing about spiritual things like substitutionary atonement, I was instantly transported to the teenage version of myself. On a big yellow school bus, no less.

 

I was sixteen, and just a few months prior, I’d made the first major clothing purchase of my life: a beautiful brown suede leather jacket. I’d had my eye on it for a long time, and after saving up my heard-earned babysitting money, I finally made the purchase.

leathercoat

 

I felt pretty cool wearing it to high school (even if I was mortified to still be riding the bus). One morning I was minding my own business, doing some finishing touches on my homework on the way to school, when all of a sudden I heard a sickening splat. I looked down at the arm of my precious caramel-colored jacket. It was smeared with ketchup, the casualty of crossfire between two punky boys who were apparently having a post-breakfast food fight.

 

I was, in all the drama of teenagerdom, devastated.

 

Later Mom and I took the coat to the dry cleaner’s. The lady matter-of-factly told me they’d be able to get the ketchup out but the coat would never be the same. I was crushed. But I also knew I wouldn’t be able to stand smelling vaguely like McDonald’s for any length of time, so I handed over the jacket.

 

They were right. The coat was never the same again. It lost its velvety finish, and the discolored spot where the ketchup hit its mark never went away.

 

When I think about the stain of my sin, I have the same fear—that the stain will never come out. And that even if does, I’ll never be the same again. So I hold back from going to the only one who can make me clean again. I try in vain to mask the ketchupy stench that trails me wherever I go.

 

At the risk of stating the obvious, Jesus’ cleansing abilities are infinitely more effective than the dry cleaner’s. Sin has indeed left its crimson mark on us, but it’s no match for his forgiveness. He washes us white as snow, and leaves us better than he found us.

“Come now, let’s settle this,”

says the Lord.

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

I will make them as white as snow.

Though they are red like crimson,

I will make them as white as wool.”

—Isaiah 1:18

 

Whatever marred spot you are trying to hide, it’s time to come and settle this. There is no sin too great, no stain too deep, that he cannot wipe it out.

 

But even so, if you ever find yourself on the school bus with punky kids, I’d advise you to leave the leather jacket at home.

 

white as snow