Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

The Summer Day August 27, 2013

Filed under: Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 12:07 pm
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Last weekend my husband and I escaped to a charming bed and breakfast along the Mississippi River to celebrate our anniversary. The town itself isn’t much to speak of—it has seen better economies, better days, better centuries even. But Ed and Sandy, the owners of the B&B, have created a little sanctuary right there in the heart of the town—a place of respite amid the busyness of life.

 

July August 2013 030

 

After a breakfast of pancakes loaded with plump blueberries, hot coffee with real cream, and fresh sweet strawberries, Daniel and I sat on the huge wrap-around front porch, serenaded by the songbirds and gurgling fountains that grace the property. Butterflies flitted from flower to flower, apparently as enticed by the aroma of the purple phlox as we were.

 

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Then Daniel pulled out his guitar started playing right there on the front porch, and as the morning sun filtered through the trees onto my neck, I wished I could bottle the moment and keep it all year. Summer in a jar.

 

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At one point Daniel looked over at me and noticed that my book was uncharacteristically closed on my lap. I was just sitting there, silent, taking it all in.

 

“What are you thinking about?” he asked, no doubt concerned I’d slipped into a food coma after all those pancakes.

 

I couldn’t quite put it into words. But Mary Oliver captures the moment in her poem “The Summer Day.”

 

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

 

Sometimes prayer is about structure and discipline and articulate words. But sometimes it’s simply learning “how to be idle and blessed.” Sometimes prayer is sitting on the front porch soaking in this wild and wonderful world God has made.

 

Sometimes prayer is just paying attention.

 

So as summer slips into September and kids don backpacks and the days start taking shortcuts toward dusk, I want to take time to seize these final summer days. I don’t want life to slip by as I rush through my busy to-do list.

 

This summer day, this gift from God—what will I do with it? What will I do with this one wild and precious life?

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Friday Favorites: August August 23, 2013

On this August Friday, here are are some of my recent favorites:

 

For introverts (and those who are mystified by them)…

I saw myself all over this list—maybe you will too. (Or maybe this will explain a lot about an introvert you love!) 23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert

 

ff August

 

For all productive types…
I loved Shauna Niequist’s challenge: Waste five minutes today. It’s All about the Heart Not the Hustle

 

ff August2

 

For everyone who’s feeling nostalgic about back-to-school time…

This is a rare recording of A. A. Milne reading Winnie the Pooh in 1929. Hear the Classic Winnie the Pooh Read by the Author

 

ff august3

 

For personality-type geeks…
These tongue-in-cheek prayers based on personality types cracked me up. Is it any surprise that the prayer for my INFJ type is “Lord help me not be a perfectionist. (Did I spell that correctly?)”? Prayers for Myers Briggs Types

 

ff august4

 

For all the book lovers out there
This quirky post marries two of my things: books and ice cream. My favorite book-inspired flavor: Clockwork Orange Dreamsicle. Book-Inspired Ice Cream Flavors

ff august5

 

Thin Places August 13, 2013

Filed under: Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 4:01 pm
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There are some moments when the curtain between heaven and earth flutters open slightly and we are able to get a peek into the other side. Such was the case for me on a Saturday I won’t soon forget.

 

My mom and I went to visit my childhood pastor and his wife, who have also become family friends over the years. They moved into a retirement facility last year, and not long after they settled into their new place, Pastor Bob’s Alzheimer’s progressed to the point that Ruth could no longer take care of him. He now lives in a separate wing in the same facility, where he gets round-the-clock care from nurses, not to mention daily visits from Ruth, who feeds him, does his laundry, holds his hand, and talks to him, even though he no longer knows her name and can’t form coherent words in response.

 

Ruth and Bob celebrated their anniversary the week before our visit. “Sixty-four years,” she says, her eyes sparkling. Her face becomes animated as she recounts the story of their whirlwind engagement. They’d been dating for a number of years, but in those years just after the Second World War, housing was nearly impossible to find. Then one day Bob’s dad saw a farm he just had to have and bought it on the spot. He asked Bob if he would farm it. Would he!

 

Bob wasted no time rushing to Ruth’s apartment, taking the stairs three at a time.

 

Excitedly he announced, “We can get married!”

 

Ruth stared at him in amazement. “When?”

 

“Two weeks should work.”

 

“Two weeks?” Her mouth fell open. “Impossible!”

 

They compromised. Three weeks.

 

“My poor mother!” Ruth says with a laugh. “Only three weeks to plan a wedding—and just before Christmas, at that!”

 

Then a shadow comes over Ruth’s countenance. “I married a man,” she says. “And now I have a little boy.”

* * *

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Sitting around Ruth’s dining room table, eating spice cookies off gold dishes and sipping sparkling pomegranate juice, we hear the update on Bob—how he no longer seems to recognize his children, how this man who had once made a living communicating is now essentially nonverbal. He can make sounds, but everything comes out in gibberish. Ruth isn’t sure if he always recognizes her, but often when she enters the room, he reaches out his arms, like a child who wants to be picked up and loved.

 

“It’s difficult,” Ruth says, “what with his apparent loss of memory about his life and his walk with the Lord.” Other than a rare whisper of “Thank you, Jesus” or “Praise the Lord,” or the time he hummed the entire tune of “Children of the Heavenly Father,” the faithful man she once knew is now mostly locked inside.

 

As I reach over and grab her hand, I think about how fine that line is separating heaven and earth. And I cling to the hope that in this fuzzy in-between place, where human bodies crumble and memories fail, God never forgets us: “I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you” (Isaiah 44:21).

 

* * *

After lunch we go down to the Alzheimer’s wing to visit Pastor Bob. I thought I knew what to expect, but there’s no real way to prepare for finding someone so drastically changed. This once articulate man, so full of energy, always ready with a joke or a story or a theological conundrum, can’t even say hello.

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Mom and I share fond memories with Pastor Bob, mostly for Ruth’s benefit. As we sit there, a flood of memories washes over me—Pastor Bob praying over me at my confirmation, the way he led our congregation in prayer before church potlucks, the way he always remembered to pray for the sick and the shut-ins. And I wondered, Who is praying for him now that he’s the one who’s sick?

 

Without thinking, I say, “Pastor Bob, can I pray for you?”

 

And for the first time that visit, his entire face beams. His eyes connect directly with mine, and he offers me his widest grin.

 

I don’t even know what comes out of my mouth in that prayer—I’m sure my own words are little more than gibberish. But it doesn’t matter. God understands what both our hearts are saying.

 

The early Celtic Christians had a name for the times when the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted. Thin places, they called them. According to one Celtic saying, heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places, that gap narrows and we are given a peek into God’s glory.

 

Later that afternoon, when Mom and I get in the car to head home, we stare at each other, trying to take in all we were witness to that day.

 

“I feel kind of shaky,” Mom tells me, and I agree.

 

A thin place indeed. Who wouldn’t feel shaky when you’re standing at such a small gap between heaven and earth?

 

***

Epilogue: Between the time of the writing and the posting of this piece, Pastor Bob passed through that thin place. He is now face-to-face with his Savior, with no veil between him and his Savior.

 

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

—Søren Kierkegaard

 

Anxiety in High Gear May 29, 2013

Filed under: Faith — Stephanie Rische @ 12:01 pm
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I have a rather embarrassing confession to make: when I was single, I had the subconscious notion that if I got married, all my anxieties would magically disappear. Ridiculous, I know. It turns out I’m the same Anxious Annie with a ring that I was without one. Now I just have another target to worry about.

 

One year ago, over Memorial Day weekend, my worrywart tendencies showed up in full force, and before it was all over, things got downright ugly.

 

My husband, Daniel, is an avid cyclist, and anytime he sees a long stretch of pavement without cars on it, he practically starts salivating. We went out of town for the weekend, and he got the notion to ride his bicycle home. All 67 miles. As if that weren’t cause enough for worry, he didn’t have a map, it was 98 degrees with the heat index, and he was going straight into a 20-mile-an-hour headwind.

 

Sixty-seven miles. Four and a half hours. That’s a long while to worry.

dwr bike

 

Then our next-door neighbor called and said our garage door was wide open. Had we closed it before we left? I thought so, but I couldn’t be sure. The likely scenario was that we’d inadvertently left it open, not that some conniving thief had wrangled his way in and left the door open as some kind of twisted signature. But who ever said worry is rational?

 

With my anxiety in high gear already, that was all it took to put me over the edge. As I drove the 67 miles home, I created multiple disaster scenarios in my head: Daniel was on an ambulance somewhere in Wisconsin, being pumped with liquids as they tried to save him from dehydration. Or maybe he’d gotten a flat tire and hitched a ride with the very same creepy guy who had broken into our house. Or most likely the thief was still camping out behind the couch in our living room, biding his time so he could jump me the moment I walked in the door.

 

Fortunately my husband is a patient man, and he let me cry it out over the phone while my incoherent fears came tumbling out.

 

When I finished blubbering, he said, “What time will you get home? I’ll call you back, and I’ll walk you in.”

 

When I hung up, I had a flash of realization: I’d just spent 40-some miles stewing and worrying and generally getting my panties in a bunch, but I hadn’t so much as whispered a prayer. How different would the trip home have been if I’d confessed my worry to God and asked him to stand guard over Daniel’s bicycle tires instead of going around and around on my gerbil wheel of worry?

 

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

—Luke 12:25-26

 

True to his word, Daniel called and walked me in when I arrived home. It turned out there was no crime scene, no trace of a sneaky garage thief. And several hours later Daniel arrived home in one piece, requiring no detours to the hospital.

 

God has promised to hold our hand as we go through whatever scary doors before us. But first we have to open our hand and let go of the worries we’re clinging to so tightly. Only then can he grab our hand in his and walk us in.

 

I hold you by your right hand—

I, the Lord your God.

And I say to you,

“Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.”

—Isaiah 41:13

 

***

This year Daniel made the same trek over Memorial Day weekend—all 67 miles again—only this time instead of scorching heat, there were threatening rainclouds. I still have a long way to go in the worrywart department, but this time I pictured God beside me, hanging on to my right hand as I drove. (Don’t worry, I kept the other hand on the wheel, just in case.)

 

daniel and steph

 

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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

 

 

What Do You Want? March 12, 2013

Filed under: Faith,Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 8:18 am
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longing1It’s the kind of question I might expect at the McDonald’s drive-through, but not from God himself:

 

What do you want?

 

According to Scripture, however, God is quoted as saying exactly that—once in the Old Testament and in one scene in the New Testament.

 

When Solomon became king, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and asked him a single question:

“What do you want?”

—1 Kings 3:5

 

When Jesus met a blind man begging along on the road, he posed the same question, verbatim:

“What do you want?”

—Mark 10:51

 

It’s intriguing that an omniscient God would ask the question at all—surely he knows the hearts of all people and doesn’t need to ask. And in the blind man’s case, wasn’t the need pretty obvious?

 

Our deepest longing—that one thing we desire above all else—exposes who we really are. And that kind of soul-nakedness is downright scary.

 

But perhaps that’s the very reason God wants us to name it, to ask for it. There’s something about saying the request out loud that makes it realer in our hearts. There’s something about forming our desire into words and tasting it on our tongues that brings it to life.

 

In other words, maybe the request isn’t for God’s sake but for our own.

 

What about you? If God appeared to you and you could ask him for one thing—just one thing—what would you ask him for? Wisdom? Vision? Healing? Wholeness? Would you ask him to fill a void in your life? Or to restore something that was lost?

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What is it that you want more than anything else?

 

There’s no guarantee God will give you that thing you ask for. But I can promise you this: God delights in hearing your deepest, nakedest requests. For it’s often in that vulnerable space that we get something more than we bargained for: we get God himself.

 

God, of thy goodness, give me Thyself;
for Thou art enough for me,
and I can ask for nothing less
that can be full honor to Thee.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever shall I be in want,
for only in Thee have I all.
―Julian of Norwich

 

 

Advent Prayers December 21, 2012

Filed under: 1 Corinthians,2 Timothy,Romans — Stephanie Rische @ 12:01 pm
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xmas4

 

As I read Paul’s letters to the early churches, I’m uncovering an intriguing thread I never noticed before. I’ve heard plenty about Paul’s deep theology, his sometimes controversial teachings, his practical instructions…but I guess I’ve never thought much about his prayers.

 

Oh my word, his prayers.

 

Paul opens just about every letter to the early churches with heartfelt prayers for them, and let me tell you, this guy was a praying powerhouse. His words are filled with faithful requests, soaring blessings, and most of all, extravagant thanksgiving.

 

A few cases in point:

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you.

—Romans 1:8-9

 

I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus.

—1 Corinthians 1:4

 

I thank God for you….Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

—2 Timothy 1:3

 

I am a prayer novice at best—or more aptly, a prayer slacker. When I read Paul’s prayers, I am reminded just how milquetoast my prayers are. I ask God to bless my loved ones, and I come to him on their behalf when they’re in some kind of pain or trouble. But how often do I spend time just thanking God for them?

 

During Lent, my husband, Daniel, and I prayed for one person or family each day leading up to Easter (you can read the story here). It was such a rich experience that we wanted to find a way to mark the Advent season too. So each evening before dinner, we toss aside the bills and junk mail to find the Christmas cards and letters and photos we received from friends and family that day. Then we pray for those people.

 

I confess that our prayers don’t come close to Paul’s stirring masterpieces, but maybe God doesn’t mind so much. And while we’ve always enjoyed our loved ones’ updates and pictures, there seems to be a deeper layer to it this year. I have to wonder if this prayer habit just may be opening our eyes to how much we have to thankful for.

 

Thank you, God, for my grandparents, who once again got their letters written, addressed, and mailed while I was still eating Thanksgiving leftovers.

 

Thank you for boy #4 for our friends this year, and for the impish joy on all those kids’ faces.

 

Thank you for little Allie, with her dad’s brown eyes and her mom’s sparkly imagination.

 

Thank you for Emery, the miracle baby who was born this year—the bubbly, smiling, rolling-over answer to so many prayers.

 

Thank you for Lauren and her annual quotables (“Now that my room is clean, I can stop, drop, and roll if there’s a fire—and not get hurt!”).

 

I don’t say it enough, but thank you, God, for the people you’ve put in our lives. Help me to keep saying thanks all year, even after all the Christmas cards are put away.

 xmas3

 

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.