Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

On Judy Blume, Burning Bushes, and Timelessness June 12, 2013

Tiger1The first time I read Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes, I was just a little younger than Davey, the fifteen-year-old narrator and heroine. Now, some two decades later, I’m just about the age of Davey’s mom. Interestingly, the characters on the pages haven’t aged a day since our last visit.

 

On Saturday I heard Judy Blume speak about the debut of the movie version of Tiger Eyes, released last Friday. At the end of her talk, she opened the floor for a Q & A with the audience. To my astonishment, dozens of young girls stood up—from grade schoolers to middle schoolers to high schoolers—to let her know how her books had connected with them. Superfudge, Freckle Juice, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret: the same books that kept me company some twenty years ago.

 

“We read to know we are not alone,” C. S. Lewis said. And sure enough, Judy Blume’s books were there to let me know I wasn’t the only one wrestling through the crazy-making emotions that come with the territory of growing up.

 

At one point near the end of the Q & A session, a teacher took the mic and asked Judy why she thought her books had held up for so many years.

 

Judy thought for a moment and then said, “You know, I write about people, about feelings. And as much as technology advances and the world looks different in a lot of ways than it did when I wrote the book in 1981, people are still the same. They still experience the same emotions.”

 

Tiger2

***

The next day in church, the message was about Exodus 3, where God shows up to Moses in the form of a burning bush. In this scene, God reveals his name to Moses, and it’s kind of a curious one—a verb where we’d expect a noun: I Am. “Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14).

 

God didn’t reveal himself as “I Was”—citing a track record of things he’d done in the past. He didn’t reveal himself as “I Will Be”—claiming what he’d do one day in the future. He was saying, in effect, Wherever you find yourself in the timeline of history, I Am there.

 

Generations come and go. Traditions change, culture fluctuates, technology thrusts us ever forward. But we humans, at our core, are still the same. We love and we lose, we laugh and we cry, we mourn and we rejoice. And in the midst of it all, God and his Word remain relevant, timeless.

 

Even more timeless and more timely, I dare say, than Tiger Eyes.

 

Tiger4

 

Note: For more on the burning bush artwork, visit http://fineartamerica.com/featured/burning-bush-anne-cameron-cutri.html.

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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

 

A Letter to My Sister on Her 28th Birthday May 24, 2013

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 11:44 am
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They were going to name you Fart-Dart.

 

We had a family meeting to discuss names before you were born, and Dad and Kyle formed an alliance, claiming that if you were a boy, Fart-Dart it would be. My indignant protests and sisterly outrage fell on deaf ears. They were too busy trying to figure out a middle name that would go well with Fart-Dart.

 

At seven, I was pretty sure Mom wouldn’t let that fly, but I wasn’t positive. Those two were a force to be reckoned with when they teamed up together—Dad with his “No, I mean it” expression that made it impossible for me to tell if he was joking, and Kyle with his infectious giggle that bubbled up every time bathroom humor was employed.

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And so I prayed. Every night before I went to bed, I prayed and prayed, with all the seven-year-old faith I could muster, that you would be a girl so you wouldn’t have to live your life under such a curse.

 

Sure enough, on a Friday in May all those years ago, Mom and Dad called from the hospital with the news. I was sitting on the bed in Grandma and Grandpa’s guest room—the one with the orange flowered bedspread. I could barely breathe as I waited for the announcement.

 

“It’s a girl,” Mom said.

 

I knew I was supposed to say something, but my throat was stuck. At seven, I thought you only cried when you were sad. I couldn’t figure out why tears were trying to squeeze out now, when I was so happy.

 

Finally I eked out the logical question: “What’s her name?”

 

Mom and Dad hadn’t decided yet. But it didn’t matter—I had a sister. And her name would not be Fart-Dart.

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All these years later, God has answered my prayer in ways beyond what I thought I was asking for back then. I’d been praying for a sister to avoid a name disaster, and he’s given me a sister to talk with, laugh with, whisper with, and do crossword puzzles with. He’s given me a sister who shows me what it means to shine Christ’s light in the way she cares for others and faithfully lives her life. He’s given me a sister who encourages me to try new things, a sister who spurs me to live more fully and abundantly and joyfully. He’s given me a sister who also happens to be my friend.

 

Meghan, you are the answer to my prayers and then some.

 

And now in this year of your life, baby sister, you are going to have a baby yourself. And you know what? You’re going to be such a good mom. I’m praying for your baby as we count down these months and days, just as I prayed for you twenty-eight years ago—not about the gender this time, but that this child will love God and love people. That he’ll have a big heart and a pure faith. That he’ll embrace life with his arms wide open. Just like his mama.

 

But I do have just one piece of advice for you as prepare for this baby’s appearance: please, whatever you do, don’t name this kid Fart-Dart.

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Sweet Sundays, Part 4 May 21, 2013

It’s startling how much I define my identity based on what I’ve accomplished in a day, on the tangible evidence I have to show for myself by the time I turn in for bed.

 

God designed a day of rest to be the antidote to this frenetic appeal to define our worth by what we produce. Each week I hear the Sabbath whispering in my ear, reminding me that I’m loved because I’m a child of God, not because I crossed four things off my to-do list.

 

On a Sunday a while back, my hubby was sick—the first time he’d had anything more devilish than a cold since I’ve known him. He’s the hardworking, highly active type, riding circles around me (literally! on his bicycle!), so it was disorienting to see him flat on his back for a week, ingesting nothing but Sprite and the occasional Ritz cracker.

 sunday3

 

But perhaps the bigger surprise was how I responded to the sick day. I should have seen it as a gentle nudge from on high, reminding me that this was the day to slow down. But I was antsy that the day was slipping by, that the laundry was piling up, that my in-box was filling up with unread messages. And for most of the afternoon, I confess that I did not rest. In body or in soul.

 

Later that evening, when I saw my husband piled under blankets, eyes glazed, I realized I had a chance to redeem what was left of the Sabbath. And so I pulled out the newspaper—the old-fashioned kind with paper and ink—and read it out loud to him (even those tedious NBA box scores, which flies in the face of productivity if anything ever did). Then I sat in my big comfy chair and cozied up with a cup of tea and a book I was reading—not for any of the three book clubs I’m in, but simply out of sheer delight.

 

It felt dizzying and terrifying and, to my surprise, even sacred.

 sunday

 

The church Fathers often spoke of Otium Sactum, “holy leisure.” It refers to a sense of balance in the life, an ability to be at peace through the activities of the day, an ability to rest and take time to enjoy beauty, an ability to pace ourselves. With our tendency to define people in terms of what they produce, we would do well to cultivate “holy leisure.”

Richard Foster, A Celebration of Discipline

 

Women of Valor March 26, 2013

I don’t know about you, but every time I read Proverbs 31, I feel tired. Maybe a little incredulous too (Seriously? This woman wakes up early, stays up late, weaves blankets, cooks, works outside the home, helps the needy, makes savvy business deals, wears a purple dress she made herself, and then probably posts it all on Pinterest? Who is this woman?).

 

Mostly, though, I just feel weary. And then I skip over to the next book in the Bible (Ecclesiastes) to remind myself that everything is meaningless anyway.

 

But I’m currently reading The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, and she has given me a new perspective on the Proverbs 31 woman.

rachel1

Apparently this chapter was written as an acrostic poem, intended as an ode to honor women, not a bunch of to-dos. In Jewish culture, this wasn’t a checklist for women to strive for; instead, men praised women with the phrase “Eshet Chayil” (“Woman of Valor”), taken from the first line of the poem.

 

In other words, this depiction isn’t intended to describe one woman, and it certainly isn’t meant to capture a single day of her life. Rather, it’s a shout-out to all women.

So today I want to take a moment to acknowledge all of you women of valor out there. I see you, and I honor you.

 

You give of yourself—your talents, your time, your tears—and usually do it without getting much thanks. Eshet Chayil!

 

You wipe bottoms and blow noses and get up in the middle of the night. Eshet Chayil!

 

You work inside your home and outside your home, in your career and in your kitchen and in your relationships, and my guess is that you’re tired. Eshet Chayil!

 

You are fierce in your love, zealous in your protection, tenacious in your prayers. Eshet Chayil!

 

You hug well, you comfort well, you bring life and goodness and joy. Eshet Chayil!

mom and me

You don’t know it, but you shine. So here’s to you, you Woman of Valor! Eshet Chayil!

 

***

P.S. A special Eshet Chayil to my mom, Cindy, who just celebrated her birthday. Mom, you showed me when to stand up for myself and when to stay on my knees. You showed me how to how to make homemade snickerdoodle cookies and when to rip open a box of Keeblers. You taught me that sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. You showed me how to follow through, how to clean an oven, how to knit a family together, how to giggle on waterslides, and how to fall in love with God’s Word. No woman fulfills the entire Proverbs 31 picture, but I have to say that you come pretty close. Happy Birthday, Mom of Valor!

 

God as a Runner March 19, 2013

Filed under: Grace — Stephanie Rische @ 9:00 am
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One of the highlights of my week occurs at 9:02 each Sunday morning. That’s the moment five-year-old Grace gets to church, and before she even gets her coat off, she comes barreling down the aisle to throw her arms around Daniel and me. She squeals with delight the moment she spots us (most likely because she knows Daniel has some antic up his sleeve to make her laugh), and then she’s heading toward us in an all-out sprint, pink dress flying behind her.

 

There is something breathtaking about the love of a child—unchecked, unbridled, unselfconscious as it is. At five, Grace doesn’t know to be jaded or cynical; she’s never had her heart broken; she doesn’t love as a means to an end. She just extends loves with the openhearted generosity of a child.

grace cropped

“You know, I feel bad sometimes that Grace shows us so much love,” Daniel told me one Sunday as we headed home from church.

 

I shot him a sideways glance, utterly befuddled. “What?

 

“Well, it’s just that we haven’t done anything to deserve her love.”

 

My initial thought was to list off all of Daniel’s qualities that endear him to every child he meets—his goofy sense of humor, his knack for asking good questions, his way of making people feel special and dignifying their feelings. But then it hit me: ultimately he’s right. We don’t deserve that kind of love.

 

Eventually a smile crept across my face. “I guess she’s pretty well named, huh?”

 

God’s grace in the form of a sprinting five-year-old.

 

***

The Bible depicts God with a number of metaphors that speak to his reverence and majesty: he is a just judge, a consuming fire, a sovereign King. But what a shock to see the one true God—whose holiness can’t be contained within the walls of even the most extravagant Temple—pictured as a father who loves his wayward child so much he literally runs to him.

 

While [his son] was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.

—Luke 15:20

 

That image of a father running to a prodigal would be stunning enough on its own (see more in this post). But given the cultural context Jesus was speaking into, it’s even more breathtaking. As one Bible commentator puts it, the father’s action “breaks all Middle Eastern protocol; no father would greet a rebellious son this way.” It would have been degrading to his position, a blow to his pride, yet the father “drapes himself on his son’s neck,” as the Greek text is literally rendered. In other words, God is willing to make a fool of himself to show us his love.

 

Allow yourself to picture it now: our God as a runner.

 

He is running toward you, even now.

 

Will you let him throw his arms around you—those everlasting arms of grace?

 

What Do You Want? March 12, 2013

Filed under: Faith,Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 8:18 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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