Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Why God Loves a Good Story June 5, 2012

Filed under: Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 8:06 am
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Oh great, here we go again… My little brother and I shot a glance at each other across Grandma and Grandpa’s extended dining room table. Dinner was long over, but we sensed that the aunts and uncles were gearing up for yet another nostalgic storytelling marathon.

 

We were antsy to be excused so we could play games or explore the basement with its endless hiding places. But we knew that once the stories started flowing, one tale would lead seamlessly into the next, and we’d be trapped at the table all evening.

 

My dad is one of 12 children in his family, all within an 18-year span. As kids, they pretty much had free reign of the outdoors, so there’s no shortage of wild tales. There’s the infamous account of the time they caught a rattlesnake and put it in the binocular case for safekeeping, the time they lowered my uncle Danny through the second-story window—in his underwear—during bridge club, and the time they launched off the swing into a trash can filled with water.

 

Then there were the countless trips to the ER—the time the tricycle ramp experiment went awry and Aunt Ruthie broke her arm, the time Uncle Paul ended up with stitches in his head after swimming in the off-limits city fountain. And of course there was the time they tried to cross the swollen Yakima River in an old playpen.

 

We grandkids heard the same stories over and over from the time we were old enough to sit at the table, and even the most dramatic of the tales had become commonplace. Nothing changed in the retelling, except perhaps for a few embellished details here and there, or my poor grandmother’s fresh horror at the things her children had kept from her until they figured they were no longer in danger of a spanking.

 

It wasn’t until recently, when we started adding in-laws to the family mix, that I started to appreciate our “family canon” of stories. With fresh ears to hear the antics of our fearless (if slightly masochistic) relatives, the post-dinner storytelling sessions became the highlight of our get-togethers. My siblings and I suddenly found ourselves itching to tell the stories too—begging our aunts and uncles to fill in the latest in-law about one event or another, and interjecting any details they might have left out.

 

Recently in my Bible reading I came across this passage in Psalm 78, which talks about a family canon of sorts:

I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
about his power and his mighty wonders.

 

It strikes me how important it was to the Israelites to pass on stories to the next generation. They wanted to leave their children and their children’s children with a spiritual legacy—the stories of God’s faithfulness and miracles in their lives. I imagine there were times when the kids rolled their eyes long after their lentil stew was gone, thinking, Oh great, here we go again… Those stories, nevertheless, became woven into the fabric of their souls. And I have to believe that as the younger generation grew older and as more place settings were added around the table, those stories started to take on an even richer meaning than before.

 

I wonder about my own spiritual canon of stories. Do I keep a record of the times God has come through for me and worked in powerful ways in my life? Am I sharing those stories with the next generation?

He commanded our ancestors
to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
even the children not yet born—
and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
not forgetting his glorious miracles
and obeying his commands.

 

I guess that means I’d better be ready to share my “God stories” with my niece and nephew, my godson, my friends’ kids, the girls I mentor, and anyone else God may bring into my life. Chances are they’ll roll their eyes at some point and think, Oh great, here we go again… But I’ll just imagine that big dining room table at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. And I’ll tell the stories. Again.

 

Question: What story in your spiritual canon do you need share today?

 

{This photo is of my dad, his parents, and his siblings, recreating the dinner table seating arrangement from when they were kids.}

 

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.

 

{Note: A version of this story originally appeared on Kyria.com.}

 

Graceful Remembering May 11, 2012

Filed under: 2 Samuel — Stephanie Rische @ 7:53 am
Tags: , ,

At a conference I attended recently, I heard a firsthand account of graceful remembering. An author named Margot Starbuck told the story of her childhood and her quest for the Father-love she never had from her earthly fathers.

Margot experienced the double whammy of abandonment early in her life, having been given up for adoption as a baby and then having her stepfather succumb to alcoholism and leave the family when she was a young girl. These abandonments from the very people who were meant to reflect the parental love of God sent her on a desperate search for the true nature of God’s love, which she chronicles in her memoir, The Girl in the Orange Dress.

What struck me most when I read Margot’s story wasn’t so much the tragic nature of her memories, but what she left out.

She never shies away from the truth or the pain of what she went through, and she doesn’t excuse her father and her stepfather for their absence. But the focus in her remembering is on the way she grew from her losses and the mysterious good God brought out of them. She offers both men the kind of forgiveness and grace they don’t deserve. But then again, that’s what grace, by its very definition, is all about.

I was equally amazed when I read the funeral song David wrote for his nemesis, King Saul. David had been nothing but faithful to Saul all his life, fighting for him, defending his honor, protecting him against assassination attempts. By way of thanks, Saul tried to kill and him and then drove him out of the country.

And yet this is how David remembered Saul after his death: 

How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan!
They were together in life and in death. . . .
Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen!
—2 Samuel 1:23, 25

I imagine David hadn’t forgotten all the evil Saul had inflicted on him when he was alive. But when it came to his final reckoning, David chose to remember with grace rather than bitterness.

Just as Margot did.

Surprisingly, Margot told us that her book has served as a reconciliation tool of sorts between her and her dad. Her father, the very one she wrote about abandoning her, now gives her book to just about everyone he meets.

How beloved and gracious, indeed.

 

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 Grace of the Scar January 31, 2012

Filed under: Genesis — Stephanie Rische @ 8:10 am
Tags: , ,

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.

Two years ago I sat on a lumpy ceramic chair, utterly helpless as I watched my active mom lying in pain on a hospital bed.

She’d just had her bum hip replaced, and everyone assumed it would be a textbook case. After all, Mom was in shape and otherwise healthy. But from day one post-op, we seemed to encounter one fiasco after the next. First there was the morphine, which sent Mom’s body into convulsive, hallucinatory panics every thirty minutes. Then, almost immediately after surgery, Mom sensed that something was wrong with her leg—not her hip, but her leg. She asked the doctors and nurses about it, but they all assured her this was normal pain.

A couple of days later, though, once the morphine had finally worn off, she had my dad and me take a look at the leg that was bothering her. To our horror, we saw what amounted to a partial tourniquet on her thigh. The compression socks—intended to prevent blood clots—had been put on wrong. Instead of being smooth all the way up her leg, they had gotten bunched tightly around her skin. And now, wrapping all the way around her thigh, was a gaping wound…like the worst rope burn you’ve ever seen.

Suddenly there was a flurry of activity around Mom’s hospital bed, and with it multiple rounds of blame transfer. In addition to the problem of the wound itself, the doctors were concerned about the possibility of infection. If this cut became infected, it would go directly to that susceptible new incision…and she’d be back to square one, needing to have the hip replaced all over again.

I stayed at home with Mom the week after her surgery to help her with basic tasks like putting on her shoes, going up the stairs, and getting into bed. Oh, and putting antibiotic ointment on that laceration. One day as I was doing wound duty, Mom asked me how it looked. I went through the checklist given to me by the medical team: the skin was turning a healthy pink, it was no longer oozing, and it didn’t smell necrotic. Check, check, check.

Mom let out the oxygen she’d been holding in. Things were starting to look up, I thought. Then she said, “No one’s talking about this, but there’s going to be a huge scar, isn’t there.” I inspected the ugly red mark winding its way around her left thigh. I swallowed. My mom, the synchronized swimmer with the fantastic legs, even as a grandma. “Yes,” I whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

On my last day with Mom before I headed home, she looked up from the hospital papers she was paging through. I was startled to see her eyes brimming over with tears. “Every time I see this scar from now on…” Her throat constricted. What will she say once she finds her voice again? I wondered. Would the scar remind her of the negligence of the nurse who put on the compression socks incorrectly? Or the doctor who failed to listen when she voiced her concerns? Or would it trigger the awful days in the hospital under the influence of the body- and mind-ravaging drugs?

I was floored when these words came out of her mouth instead: “Every time I see this scar, it will remind me of the way God took care of me.”

Not so different from Jacob, I guess, who had some hip surgery of his own. After wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32), Jacob’s hip was wrenched, and he walked with a permanent limp from that day forward. No doubt his tweaked hip was a tangible reminder of his encounter with a God who doesn’t usually show up so palpably.

So, Mom, I want what you have. Not a new hip, per se. (I’m hoping this condition isn’t genetic, as the surgeon implied.) But I do want your perspective on scars. That it’s not so much about what happened in the first place or who inflicted the wound. It’s really about who healed it.

Until the day there is no more crying or pain, may my scars and remind me of the one who was there with me when I got hurt in the first place, the one who is still with me now.

He’s also the God who knows what it feels like. After all, on the palms of his hands, he has two jagged scars of his own.