Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

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.

 

On Silk Parachutes and Wedding Gowns March 2, 2012

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 7:57 am
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My grandma and grandpa just celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary. More than six decades ago, they got married in a simple ceremony on a Tuesday morning—just as soon as they could after Grandpa returned from the war.

I’ve long admired the photograph of my grandmother, beautiful and wide-eyed in her elegant silk gown. But it wasn’t until recently that I heard the story of the dress.

Apparently, since silk was needed overseas for the war effort, it was an extremely hard to come by in the 1940s. But my grandmother, spunky woman that she is, remained undeterred as she planned her wedding. She wrote a letter to her fiancé—my grandfather—requesting that he send a used parachute from Europe so she could have it made into a dress.

Sure enough, the package of white silk arrived, and under the seamstress’s deft fingertips, the object that was once a symbol of war and tragedy was transformed into something new and beautiful.

Nothing would erase the things Grandpa experienced in the war—the deaths he felt responsible for, the buddies who didn’t make it, the missions he shouldn’t have returned from. And nothing would take away the pain of Grandma’s years of waiting as she worried and prayed over his safe return.

God didn’t magically take all that pain away. But somehow all those memories got stitched together into the fabric of the silk parachute as they began their new life together. The token of what had separated them was transformed into a resplendent dress, now a tangible sign of their love.

Isn’t that what God does too? He takes the cross—the ultimate object of sin and punishment and death—and transforms it into a symbol of hope and reconciliation and new life. He takes our tragedies and failures—the very things that once separated us from him—and transforms them into a beautiful garment for us to wear. A garment he calls grace.

Note: After my grandmother wore this dress, she handed it down to her daughter and then her granddaughter for them to wear at their own weddings. For more about this story, including photos of the dress over the next two generations, check out the write-up in the Daily Herald.

 

Christmas Is Coming (well, sort of…) January 17, 2012

Filed under: Winter — Stephanie Rische @ 12:08 pm
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Okay, I know Christmas is over…I finally took down the tree and (for the most part) curbed my habit of belting out holiday tunes. I was doing pretty well until it snowed, and let’s just say I relapsed.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Over the Rhine’s “Darlin’ (Christmas Is Coming),” and every time I see the white stuff out the window, I can’t help but sing it. The song starts out less chipper than you might expect for Christmas lyrics:

So it’s been a long year
Every new day brings one more tear
Till there’s nothing left to cry

But there’s this lovely thread of redemption that runs through the song, all the more poignant for its haunting opening:

Darlin’, the snow is falling
Falling like forgiveness from the sky

If there was ever a nature metaphor for grace, it has to be snow. One moment the world is drab and brown and lifeless, and in an instant it’s transformed—clean, pure, new. And unexpectedly beautiful. Everything is covered—from hulking buildings to the tiniest twigs.

And so it is with grace. When it falls, it covers everything—from our biggest, most glaring sins to the less obtrusive ones we try to hide.

So get ready, darlin’. Grace is falling…it’s falling like snowflakes from the sky.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
—Psalm 51:7