Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Unexpected Love Letters October 11, 2013

Filed under: Love,Marriage — Stephanie Rische @ 8:12 am
Tags: , , , ,

love lettersToday’s Christian Woman just posted my article about love letters…and how they’re sometimes written with something other than pen and paper.

 

Unexpected Love Letters

 

I’m a sucker for old-fashioned letters and old-fashioned romance, so I felt like a teenager at prom when I happened upon a book called Love Letters of Great Men. I waited all day before cracking it open, eager to sink my teeth into it as if it were the literary equivalent of dark chocolate.

 

At first I was savoring the letters—these epistles dating as far back as Pliny the Younger almost 2,000 years ago and capturing the words of some of the political and literary greats in the centuries since. I was taken by the beauty of the language, the permanence of the sentiments, and the artistry of the writers as they sought to capture their passion and pin it down with ink and paper. In short, I wanted to love those love letters.

 

But then something unexpected happened: I started digging up biographical information about a few of these “great men,” and suddenly their words sounded less like soaring symphonies and more like discordant clanging.

 

You can read the rest of the article here.

 

A True Story of Love and War and 67 Years February 19, 2013

gpa planeThe year was 1946. The Nuremburg war trials had begun. Wartime price controls were being lifted in the United States. And America’s boys were slowly trickling back from the war…including the tall, dark-haired Lieutenant Voiland, having defied the odds and survived countless bombing missions on the European front.

 

His fiancée, Cay, had been waiting and praying anxiously, day by day, month by month, year by year, longing for her sweetheart to come home. She’d been planning their wedding while he was gone—the ultimate act of hope in the midst of a war in which half a million men who left never returned. With her trademark spunk, she refused to let the scarcity of silk prevent her from having a wedding dress, so she arranged to have a dress made from the unlikeliest of sources (I wrote about the remarkable story here).

 

For most of my life, I assumed Grandma and Grandpa’s February wedding date had been scheduled around Valentine’s Day. Whenever we gathered to celebrate as an extended family, we marked the occasion with red decorations and a heart-shaped cake, and I never heard anything to indicate otherwise.

 

It was only recently that I discovered their wedding date was determined not by Valentine’s Day but by Ash Wednesday.

 

“Ash Wednesday?” I asked Grandma. The dots weren’t connecting for me.

 

“Things were stricter back then,” Grandma said. “You couldn’t get married during Lent.”

g and g wedding

Of course—Lent. The church took seriously this 40-day period of sacrifice, fasting, and repentance, and it was not the time for weddings and feasts.

 

Grandma winked at me. “I’d been waiting long enough,” she said. “I wasn’t about to wait until after Easter!”

 

And so, on a Tuesday morning, just a day before Ash Wednesday, they squeezed in a simple ceremony at the campus chapel. I’ve always been enchanted by the lone black-and-white photograph of Grandma and Grandpa on their wedding day: Grandma looking beautiful and big eyed in that one-of-a-kind gown, and Grandpa, serious and handsome as ever in his classic suit.

***

This year Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday fell one day apart from each other, just a week before my grandparents’ 67th anniversary, and I was struck by the tender intersection of these sacred occasions: Valentine’s Day. A much-anticipated wedding. Ash Wednesday. Lent. An anniversary marking almost seven decades of marriage. And it got me to wondering: maybe Ash Wednesday is the perfect backdrop for a wedding after all. Valentine’s Day offers fine sentiments, of course—an appropriate reminder for us to express our love each year. But real love may be more aptly captured by a day marked by sacrifice and surrender and the choice to lay down one’s life.

 

Grandma and Grandpa know this well. The war showed them the cost of love from the very beginning: the agonizing separation—both by an ocean and by endless days, when the only threads connecting them were their love and a string of handwritten letters. And just because the war ended, that didn’t mean the sacrifices did. With the ratio of one income to 12 children, they sometimes had more month than they had money.

 

And now, as my grandparents are in their golden years, they are dealing with the sacrifices of caring for each other’s needs as their bodies and minds aren’t quite what they used to be.

 

But if you asked them about the cost of love, they’d likely look at you with a bewildered shrug. That’s just what love does. It’s the very nature of love to give, to sacrifice, to lay down one’s life for one’s beloved.

 

And that is, after all, what we celebrate during Lent. This season marks the greatest romance of all time: the Savior who sacrificed everything to show us his love. The one who fought courageous battles on our behalf. The one who laid down his life for the ones he loves.

 

Love and Lent. Perhaps they’re more connected than I realized. G&G

 

So happy 67th anniversary, Grandma and Grandpa.

 

And happy VaLENTine’s season, everyone.

***

If you’d like to read more about my grandma and grandpa’s love story, including how Grandma’s dress was passed down to two more generations, check out my aunt Annie’s story here.

 

Wooing in the Desert July 12, 2012

Filed under: Hosea — Stephanie Rische @ 5:27 pm
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  Picture this: It’s the third century AD, and the persecution that has plagued Christians for hundreds of years has finally lifted. For the first time in the history of the Roman Empire, it’s safe to be a Christian. After an era marked by torture and martyrdom, those who follow Jesus are being welcomed into society.

 

You’d think that on the heels of such persecution, Christ-followers would bask in their newfound freedom and the comfort of being able to live their lives in peace. But shockingly, it was out of that positive cultural shift that the monastic movement was born. The Desert Fathers (and Mothers), as they were called, went into the Egyptian wilderness not to avoid a difficult situation but to avoid one that was too comfortable.

 

In my chronological Bible, I just read the heart-wrenching love story of Hosea and his relentless love for his wife, Gomer. She cheats on him again and again, but he keeps taking her back, pursuing her and wooing her back, knowing even as he does that she’ll reject him for lesser loves as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

 

The story is outrageous, flying in the face of everything I deem just and right and fair. I find myself wanting to shout some sense into Hosea across the pages of Scripture—Why would a nice guy like you keep taking back this woman who is clearly not good enough for you? But I’m barely into the story when it becomes clear that this isn’t just an account about a long-dead prophet. It’s about how God’s people have “acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods” (Hosea 1:2).

 

That cheating woman is me.

 

I have found true love in God, yet I give my heart to unworthy substitutes: Comfort. Security. The stuff of this world. The approval of others. People and things that aren’t meant to step into the role only God can fill in my heart.

 

But here’s where the beautiful part comes in. Hosea doesn’t wait for his fickle bride to come back to him, groveling for forgiveness. No, he pursues her, using every courting trick in the book to win her back. And God does the same for his people, for his bride. For me.

 

The Lord says…

“I will win her back once again.

I will lead her into the desert

and speak tenderly to her there.”

—Hosea 2:14

 

At first the desert strikes me as an odd choice for wooing. It doesn’t have quite the romantic appeal of, say, a candlelight dinner or a walk along the beach. Why would God do his courting in the desert?

 

But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the Desert Fathers were onto something. Maybe when you’re in the wilderness, it’s easier to have an honest talk about your relationship. In the desert, life moves at a slower pace. You have limited creature comforts. Less noise. Fewer distractions. And maybe then, in the uncomfortable quiet, you can sit down and really talk. Maybe then, you can pause long enough to hear the words your beloved is tenderly speaking to you.

 

Abba Cronius, one of the Desert Fathers, put it this way: “If the soul is vigilant and withdraws from all distraction and abandons its own will, then the spirit of God invades it.”

 

If you find yourself in the desert right now, consider this: What if the desert isn’t a punishment after all? What if the desert is a place where there’s finally room for the One who loves you to invade your heart, your soul?

 

What if the desert is actually the best place to be wooed?

 

{Note: If you want to find out more about the Desert Fathers and how they make sense in today’s world, I highly recommend the book Holy Fools by Mathew Woodley.}

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.

 

God the Romantic May 30, 2012

Filed under: Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 8:12 am
Tags: , ,

It was the longest my husband, Daniel, and I had been apart since we got married—approximately 61 hours (not that I was keeping track). I’d been out of town for work, and although the conference was well worth my while, by the time my coworker dropped me off at my car, I was ready to be heading home.

 

As I pulled out of the parking lot, I looked to my right and saw a guy on a bicycle. Wow, I thought, that looks a lot like Daniel’s bike. I checked to see if the light had changed, then glanced at the cyclist again. Hmm, he’s built a lot like Daniel too. I did a double take. Wait…that IS Daniel!

 

Sure enough, he had ridden the 20 miles from our home just so he could see me at the soonest possible moment. On a pragmatic level, it didn’t make much sense. All that time and energy could have been poured into something more productive, more practical. Something that would have offered a more tangible payoff than merely the look of shock and wonder on my face.

 

Once we got Daniel’s bicycle loaded in the back of my car and the decibel level of my squealing came to a decrescendo, we headed home together. The sun was just starting to set, and we were driving straight toward it. It was one of those skies you’d be hard pressed to describe with definable colors, even with the help of one of those 150-crayon Crayola boxes. The clouds out the passenger window were on fire with iridescent oranges and yellows. Straight ahead, rays of light were bursting through a curtain of purply clouds.

 

And in that moment I was reminded that, like Daniel, our Creator is a romantic. Sure, he made this world operational and scientifically coherent, but I appreciate that he also made it beautiful. Impractically so. He could have made a perfectly functional black-and-white world…one without sunsets and 20,000 varieties of daisies and 339 species of hummingbirds.

 

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
—Psalm 8:3-4

 

I have to wonder if God, too, delights in surprising us. He must figure it’s worth all the effort to create something so breathtaking that we are jolted out of our routine, forced to double-take, compelled to look at him with fresh eyes.

 

That night as our car rolled westward, I found myself amazed that the Creator-God, who could have been doing anything at all in our great big universe, would choose, in that moment, to be with “mere mortals” like us.

 

In the presence of such majesty, we can only join with David in his psalm of praise:

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

—Psalm 8:9

***

Question: What part of God’s creation causes you to do a double-take?

 

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.