Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

At the Intersection of Weeping and Joy September 28, 2012

Filed under: Ezra — Stephanie Rische @ 12:13 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I fell in love with Daniel over a steaming bowl of Pad Thai.

It was our second date, and he had done his homework. He knew I loved Thai food, and he’d scoped out the perfect spot—a cute little restaurant near my house called Bistro Thai.

As we chatted over our watermelon juice (one glass, two straws), I was struck by all the things we had in common and how blue his eyes were and how he could make me laugh and how blue his eyes were. Did I mention how blue his eyes were? Still, I was telling my heart to take it slow.

I knew I was in trouble, however, when Daniel pulled out the big manila envelope, saying he had a surprise for me. Could this be what I thought it was?

By way of background: Somewhere between date #1 and date #2, Daniel and I had exchanged some playful banter that went something like this: he found out I did some writing and asked if he could read something I’d written. I made an offhanded comment that he’d have to give me some equally sensitive information in exchange, such as, say, embarrassing childhood photos. The conversation moved on, and I thought that was the end of it.

But sure enough, Daniel contacted his dad, eight hours away, who secured an envelope full of embarrassing childhood photos and delivered them to Daniel in time for date #2. (I later found out his dad had stayed up until 1 a.m. scrounging through shoeboxes for all the best pictures.)

As Daniel and I pored over the photos, with the scent of peanuts and cilantro mingling in the air, it was official. I was smitten.

And so every year since, to mark the anniversary of our first dinner at Bistro Thai, we’ve gone back and ordered the same thing, reminiscing about the now-famous photo incident.

Last week my friend was visiting, and I decided to introduce her to my favorite little restaurant. As we walked up to the building, a series of observations came to me one at a time, in isolation, leaving me somehow unable to process them as a unit. Strange, I thought, there’s nobody here. Followed shortly by, The front window is completely gone! And then, Hey, why is there a big orange notice on the front door?

I realize there are real tragedies in the world, like when people lose their houses and everything they own in the wake of a hurricane, or when people are displaced from their families and homelands due to the ravages of war. But in that moment, the “For Lease” sign in the window of our restaurant felt like a state of emergency. I suppose it was partly sentimental, but maybe it was also a microcosm of those grander losses in life—that sense of remembering what once was and knowing that as hard as you try, you can never quite go back to the way things once were.

The book of Ezra recounts the significant event when a wave of Israelites returned from exile and started rebuilding their beloved temple. After it had sat in ruins for 70 years, there was much to celebrate as the new foundation was laid:

“He is so good!
His faithful love for Israel endures forever!”

Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid.

But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.
—Ezra 3:11-13

Maybe you’ve lost something precious to you—perhaps a place, a relationship, or a dream has been stripped away—and you know that things will never be the same again. Even if, by some miracle, that sacred place is rebuilt or the relationship is restored or the dream is redeemed, you know in your heart that it will never be as glorious as the original version. And when that happens, when you’re standing on the rubble of the old and on the cusp of the unknown, I think the only thing to do is weep it out.

More and more I’m realizing that life doesn’t usually come at me one tidy emotion at a time—weeping for a season, then joy for a spell. No, it’s usually tangled together in a messy jumble—“joyful shouting and weeping mingled together,” as with the Temple round two.

One day there will no longer be a need for a Temple of any kind, because Christ himself will be the Temple (Revelation 21:22). In Christ, we have the hope that one day God will bring restoration and redemption on a grander scale than we can even imagine. But until then, there just may be times when our weeping and our joyful shouting will swirl together, heavenward, in a loud noise.

Meanwhile, I’m holding my breath that one day there will be a new restaurant where Bistro Thai once was. Maybe, despite the loss, it will also be the foundation for something new. Something full of joy.

 

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.

 

Once Upon a Time, I Wore a Pretty White Dress… August 14, 2012

Filed under: Isaiah — Stephanie Rische @ 1:41 pm
Tags: , , ,

One year ago today, my dad walked me down a tree-lined aisle toward a little clearing, where all the people I loved most were singing an a cappella version of “Be Thou My Vision.”

I knew, in theory, that the wooden arch ahead of me had been lovingly draped with tulle and calla lilies by my family. I knew that Pastor Tim was standing at the front with his trusty Bible and a smile on his face. I knew that somewhere in the front row my mom was bawling and that Grandma was snapping roll after roll of pictures.

But I couldn’t see any of that. I could only see one thing: the vision of my handsome groom standing at the end of the aisle. He was beaming so wide I thought the grin would burst off his face. And he was looking right at me.

 

Whenever I was asked before the wedding, I assured people that I wasn’t the crying type, and I was confident I wouldn’t need my waterproof mascara. But the moment my eyes locked on my husband-to-be, I was overcome with all the meaning wrapped in that single moment—how it was the culmination of so many hopes and prayers, how God had given me much more than I’d been asking him for, how all the waiting had been worth it.

As I looked at Daniel’s face, I told myself, Freeze this moment. Take a mental picture right here, right now. Never forget this.

 

 

Since that day, Daniel’s love has continued to give me new insight into the way God loves his bride. It’s not an obligatory love; it’s a love that is basked in delight.

 

The Lord delights in you

and will claim you as his bride….

Then God will rejoice over you

as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

—Isaiah 62:4-5

 

God’s love, in other words, beams so wide it is liable to burst off his face.

If you are doubting today whether God loves you, lift up your head and look at his face. He is standing there at the end of the aisle, just waiting for you walk toward him. See the delight in his smile, and know that he rejoices over you.

You are his beloved, and he has eyes only 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.

 

On His Hand August 11, 2012

Filed under: Isaiah — Stephanie Rische @ 9:38 am
Tags: , ,

Not long ago I had the privilege of spending the afternoon with joy personified—joy that goes around in the form of a seventh grader named Becky.

According to doctors, Becky has an extra chromosome—Down syndrome. Although I’m not familiar with all the medical implications that go along with that diagnosis, I would agree that Becky does have something extra. But in my books, the extra that stands out most is her joy.

When my husband and I went on a walk with Becky and the rest of her family on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I suddenly saw the world through fresh eyes—eyes of wonder and pure delight.

Where I might have walked right past a swampy bog, Becky had her eyes peeled the whole time, certain that at any moment she’d see a turtle sunbathing on a rock. Where I saw a field of weeds, Becky squealed with delight and promptly gathered a dandelion bouquet for me, including some to be tucked behind each of my ears.

 

 

Skipping with happiness on the way home, she looked at me with a grin that lit up her entire face. “Can I hold your hand?” she asked.

And so I walked the rest of the way back with both hands full, one with a yellow bouquet and the other with joy herself.

Later that evening we all sang hymns together, led by Becky’s older sister, Hannah, on the piano. Hannah asked for requests, and after a few selections, Becky piped up, “Let’s do my favorite! ‘Before the Throne’!”

I was a bit chagrined to discover how rusty I am on my hymns, and I wasn’t sure I could even pull out a tune for that one. So as the song started, I just sat back and listened.

Before the throne of God above

I have a strong and perfect plea…

 

As I looked around the room, my gaze fell on Becky. She sat perched on her chair, her face beaming and her legs swinging to the music. To my amazement, she knew every word of the song. I listened as she belted out the next line:

My name is graven on His hand

My name is written on His heart

 

Just last week I came across a startling statistic: some 90 percent of women who find out in prenatal testing that their baby will have Down syndrome choose abortion. As we sang, I couldn’t help but think of the extra joy Becky’s family would have missed if she’d never been born—the joy all of us would have missed.

Can a mother forget her nursing child?

Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?

But even if that were possible,

I would not forget you!

See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.

—Isaiah 49:15-16

As I looked at Becky’s face, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sing, even if I managed to dredge up the tune. Not with a lump the size of a small turtle in my throat.

I closed my eyes, and a vision flashed through my mind—of God’s big hand holding the hand of a smiling seventh grade girl. She gives him a bouquet of hand-picked dandelions, and as he reaches out to take them, I notice that he has a tattoo on his hand. Right there on his palm is etched the name of his beloved child. Becky.

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 Joy of “Again!” May 22, 2012

Filed under: 2 Samuel,Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 8:06 am
Tags: , ,

“I can’t go to sleep, Daddy,” Lyla said. “My heart is crying.”

My brother and his family were on vacation in Florida, and he’d gone in to check on my three-year-old niece, who was supposed to be napping.

He put his hand on the top of her head. “Why is your heart crying?”

“My heart wants to go in the water. It won’t stop crying until it can go swimming again.”

Never mind the fact that she’d been splashing in the pool all day yesterday, she’d been out the entire morning that day, and tomorrow would be more of the same. Her little heart never tired of this bliss. Again, Daddy!

I have to confess that at this point I’m getting a bit bogged down in my chronological reading. Yes, I love the fact that the psalms are right next to the events that inspired them, and David has enough drama to put Days of Our Lives to shame. The part that’s getting to me is the repetition.

Ever since I hit the book of 2 Samuel, I’ve been getting waves of scriptural déjà vu. About halfway through my daily readings, I find myself stopping to wonder, Didn’t I just read that? And then I realize I’m getting the story a second time, this time from the 1 Chronicles perspective.

I wish I could say I jump at the chance to ingest these truths a second time around, soaking them in over my cup of coffee, but that’s not how things typically pan out. I find myself skimming the repeated sections, my mind wandering toward my ever-lurking to-do list. My sense of efficiency takes offense at such repetition.

 

But my brother’s story stops me short. Is this what it means to have a childlike faith? To be a child, after all, is to love repetition, to be fully present in the moment. To be a child is to beg your father, “Again! Again!”

G. K. Chesterton poses the idea that children may be onto something spiritual in their love of repetition:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough….It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

I just read David’s song of praise twice—once from 2 Samuel and once from the Psalms. But this time when I got to the repeated bits, I tried to approach them like a child—with delight in the repetition.

I will praise you among the nations;
I will sing praises to your name. . . .
You show unfailing love to your anointed,
to David and all his descendants forever.
—2 Samuel 22:50-51

I will praise you among the nations;
I will sing praises to your name. . . .
You show unfailing love to your anointed,
to David and all his descendants forever.
—Psalm 18:49-50

May I take my cue from little Lyla: Again, Daddy! Again!

***

 

Question: What do the little people in your life teach you about childlike faith?

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.

 

Waiting and Other Acts of Heroism May 1, 2012

Filed under: 1 Samuel — Stephanie Rische @ 7:55 am
Tags: , ,

At this point in my chronological Bible reading, heroes abound: Samson, the muscle man who famously took down the Philistine temple with his bare hands. Gideon, the army commander who led a band of ragtag soldiers to defeat a daunting enemy. Ehud, the leftie who plunged his dagger into the gut of the opposing king.

But it wasn’t until I hit 1 Samuel that I discovered someone truly heroic: an unassuming woman named Hannah. She had no battle victories under her belt, no enemy kills, no feats of physical strength. Her claim to fame: she was a good waiter.

Hannah longed desperately for a baby, but month after month, year after year, nothing changed. She was raw with the waiting, aching over the silence that met her request each time. She didn’t try to hide the hurt of her unanswered prayers. When she went to the Tabernacle to cry out to God, Scripture says she “was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the LORD” (1 Samuel 1:10).

Yet even in the face of her anguish, she didn’t give up hope. In my book, that takes more courage than any battlefield heroics.

My friend Heather has been aching for a baby for six long years. After several miscarriages and unsuccessful medical interventions, she and her husband have ventured onto the roller coaster of domestic adoption. I’ve watched their hopes soar and plummet with each new possibility, each phone call.

After carefully filling out form after form in what Heather refers to as a “paper pregnancy,” going through a battery of interviews and tests, and writing an extensive profile complete with photos and essays, Heather and Rick figured the only thing left to do was wait.

They just never imagined they’d be waiting this long.

One birth mother agreed to have them adopt her little girl, but near the end of her pregnancy she decided she wanted siblings for the baby and went with another family instead. A teenage girl they’d connected with miscarried late term. Another woman changed her mind and decided to raise her child on her own.

Right now Heather and Rick find themselves in the position of waiting yet again. They were scheduled to meet with another birth mother last week, but she canceled at the last minute, saying she needed more time to think.

Like Hannah, there are days when Heather grieves and cries out in anguish to her God. Yet she keeps hoping, even when it means putting her heart out there to get hurt again. She keeps praying, even when it feels like her prayers are met with haunting silence. And through it all, she keeps holding on to the very God who heard Hannah’s cries.

The part of Hannah’s story that I find most inspiring is the timing of her heart change. I guess I’d always assumed her grieving stopped after her miracle baby was born. But as I look more closely at the story, I realize that’s not quite the chronology:

“In that case,” Eli [the priest] said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

 

“Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.

—1 Samuel 1:17-18

The joy came first, then the answer.

Hannah’s joy didn’t depend on having the miracle in hand. It was enough that God heard her plea.

Someday, by God’s grace, I hope I’ll be able to wait with that kind of joy. Like my heroes, Hannah and Heather.

***

Question: What are you waiting for right now?

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.