Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

10 Minutes with God January 10, 2014

Filed under: Psalms,Scripture Reflections — Stephanie Rische @ 8:00 am
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Over the past week, I’ve had the privilege of writing daily reflections about Psalm 119 for my church’s 10 Minutes with God initiative. You can read the devotions (or listen to an audio recording of me reading them) here.

 

psalm 119-1

 

Here are some things I’ve been learning along the way:

  • Did you know that Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible?
  • Did you know that Psalm 119 mentions God’s Word in some form in all but one of the 176 verses?
  • Um, really? That’s what my voice sounds like?
  • There are apparently a lot of words I know how to read in my head but don’t know how to pronounce out loud. My apologies to Noah Webster and my first grade phonics teacher for any butchering of the English language.

 

Here’s a sneak peek from one of this week’s devotions:

 

The Way of Truth

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
—Psalm 119:103

 

If you looked down the aisles at a grocery store, you’d likely find a smattering of products with the word delight in them: Kellogg’s Chocolatey Delight Crisps, International Delight Iced Coffee, Quaker True Delights Bars, Yoplait Parfait Delights, Hershey’s Air Delight Kisses, and the list goes on.

 

Likewise, if you leafed through the pages of a cookbook, you’d find countless recipes featuring the word as well (allrecipes.com turned up 917 results with the word delight in the title—everything from Chocolate Delight to Raspberry Delight to Turkish Delight).

 

It seems that in our culture, delight is something we tend to associate with food, with our taste buds, with sweetness.

 

And in a way, that’s precisely what the psalmist says about taking delight in God’s Word. In part of his long prayer to God in Psalm 119, he exclaims, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

 

Stay tuned—I’ll be writing the devotions to go along with this whole sermon series (for the next five weeks).

 

psalm 119-3

 

The Knife September 24, 2013

In my role as an editor, I’ve been dubbed “The Knife” by a few select people. It may sound a bit harsh at first, especially since if you know me, you know I don’t enjoy inflicting pain. (Case in point: as much as I love bacon, I’ve been known to go vegetarian at pig roasts because I can’t bear the thought of eating little Porky once I’ve seen his face.)

 

But there’s something to the nickname, because ultimately an editor is a surgeon . . . someone who identifies the parts that are sick, decaying, or sucking the life out of a manuscript, and then ever so carefully removes them. For some manuscripts, this looks like major amputation, followed by the grafting-in of new content. Other manuscripts require the use of a smaller knife for more intricate incisions.

knife1

 

As gentle and careful as a surgeon might be, there’s no getting around it: the knife hurts. It’s never pleasant to have a part of yourself sliced into or lopped off. But the alternative is worse. It’s better to have someone who cares about you do surgery than to let the infection worsen and potentially creep to other parts of the body (or manuscript) as well.

 

Lately I went through the eye-opening experience of having the tables turned. Instead of the knife being in my own hand, this time I was on the receiving end of the edits. And you know what? It hurt to be on the operating table. But in the best possible way. That’s how it feels when you hear truth from someone who loves you. Good hurt.

 

Wounds from a sincere friend

are better than many kisses from an enemy.

—Proverbs 27:6

knife2

 

As in manuscripts, so it is in life. Although there’s a part of me that wants to bury my head in the sand and hide my vulnerable places in front of others, deep down I really want to know my weak spots. I want someone to gently point out my blind spots. It’s the only way I know to grow.

 

Right now I’m reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, and she talks a lot about the power of making ourselves vulnerable before others. “Courage,” she says, “starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

knife4

 

Maybe you don’t need a literal editor or a surgeon right now, but in what ways do you need to show up and let yourself be seen? Where do you need to let down your guard? Where do you need to allow other people speak truth into your life?

 

If we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. . . . To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.

—Brené Brown

 

If we’re going to grow and dare and live brave, then we need to put ourselves on the operating table every once in a while . . . and entrust our friends with the knife.

 

knife3

 

Book of the Month Club: The Thirteenth Tale February 1, 2013

Filed under: Book Club — Stephanie Rische @ 8:20 am
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13th tale

Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club (which I introduced here). January’s selection was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

 

Here’s how it works: I’m going to throw out some discussion topics, and you can feel free to post your comments—about these topics or other things you want to talk about.

 

Discussion #1: Story vs. Truth

The initial letter Vida Winter sends to Margaret includes an interesting commentary about the power of story compared to the power of truth:

 

My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney?…When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie. (p. 5)

 

Meanwhile, Margaret agrees to be Vida Winter’s biographer only on the condition that Vida Winter tells her the truth. She even manages to squeeze a few verifiable facts out of the writer before she begins.

 

Over the course of the book, do you think Vida Winter’s stance on truth and story changes? Clearly, at the end of her life, the “plump comforts of a story” aren’t enough to soothe her. And Margaret seems to so lose herself in Vida Winter’s story that she no longer seems quite so consumed with the facts.

 

Which do you prefer: a story or the truth?

 

Discussion #2: Twins

One of the central themes of the book is twins. Vida Winter is haunted by twins who kept her outside their circle; Margaret is haunted by her twin who died as an infant—the sister whose absence still gapes. Do you think there’s a special twin connection?

 

Discussion #3: Margaret

What do you think of Margaret as a character? Is her story compelling, or is she just a vehicle for Vida Winter to tell her story?

 

I enjoyed having two stories—the parallels between Margaret’s and Vida’s lives add depth and mystery to the book. But I wished I could have gotten more about Margaret’s story. When Margaret protests that she doesn’t have a story, Vida Winter tells her, “Of course you have. Everybody has a story.” But while we get glimmers of Margaret’s story, it feels flat in the shadow of Vida’s narrative.

 

In an interview shortly after the book’s release, Diane Setterfield shared this comment about the early process of writing The Thirteenth Tale: “The biographer, Margaret, was very quiet and reserved and she was very difficult and withdrawn, I could tell she was hiding something from me, but I couldn’t tell what it was. I got very annoyed with the book and the characters, and didn’t do anything for a year. After that I took a deep breath and sat down with it again. I couldn’t leave it alone—I just felt these characters deserved to have their stories told.”

 

Diane

 

What do you think? Did she do justice to Margaret’s character?

 

Discussion #4: One Lingering Mystery

In a book full of twists and turns, we uncover yet another surprise when Emmeline’s identity is called into question near the end of the book. Vida Winter recounts the scene after she saved Emmeline from the fire:

 

I look at her face and cannot find my beloved in it.
“Emmeline?” I whisper. “Emmeline?”

She does not reply.

I feel my heart die. What have I done? Have I…? Is it possible that…?

I cannot bear to know.

I cannot bear not to know. (p. 379)

 

And so Vida Winter cares for her half-sister for the rest of her life, not knowing if it’s her beloved Emmeline or the deranged Adeline. What do you think? Was it Emmeline or Adeline? And what would it say about Vida Winter if it was the latter?

 

Wrap-Up

For more about the author, you can visit this page. I was astonished to find that this was Diane Setterfield’s first novel—her previous publications were all academic works about nineteenth and twentieth century French literature. Not bad for her first try.

 

I’d give The Thirteenth Tale 4.5 stars (out of 5).

4.5 stars

 

What rating would you give this book?

 

{Reminder: I will give away a free book to one randomly selected commenter!}

 

Out of True July 10, 2012

Filed under: Amos — Stephanie Rische @ 5:26 pm
Tags: , , ,

  There are good things and bad things about being married to a cyclist who can zip down the street fast enough to break the speed limit in school zones. The good things: the man and his bike. The bad things: all other moving objects in his path.

 

I know Daniel is conscientious about being safe and following the rules of the road. But I have no such guarantee about the other people behind the handlebars—or behind the wheel—he may encounter along the way.

 

So when he was late returning home from a recent ride, I admit to being a little nervous. I was relieved when I heard the back door open and he came in to give me his customary sweaty hug. But then I saw that his leg was scraped up and he had a decent-sized gash on his elbow. I immediately started fussing, but it became clear that he wasn’t the least concerned about his body. All he could talk about was his bicycle.

 

Apparently he had been clipping along the trail when another cyclist darted in front of him. There was no way he could stop in time. Fortunately neither party sustained significant injuries, but Daniel’s bike had taken a beating in the collision.

 

“Now my bicycle is out of true,” he lamented.

 

“Out of true?” I asked. I wasn’t familiar with the expression, but something about it resonated with me. “What does that mean?”

 

“Well, if your wheel is out of true, it no longer rotates straight,” he said. “There’s something just a little off about it.”

 

I came across a similar concept in the book of Amos, of all places. This prophet was called by God to deliver a difficult message to Israel and Judah about the coming judgment. Amos received several visions from the Lord—analogies of sorts to give the people a visual about their sin and the consequences. One of these visions was of a plumb line—a measuring cord that has a weight attached to it. Apparently, before the days of high-tech gadgets, builders used plumb lines to test if something (like a wall) was perfectly upright. Or out of true, you might say.

I saw the Lord standing beside a wall that had been built using a plumb line. He was using a plumb line to see if it was still straight. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”

I answered, “A plumb line.”

And the Lord replied, “I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins.”

—Amos 7:7-9

 

Out of true. It’s not just bicycles and walls and ancient people groups that veer off ever so slightly until they’re no longer upright. So do we. We get out of alignment just a little bit, and before we even realize it, we’re off course. We need to get adjusted—and the sooner the better.

 

Thankfully we have a God who doesn’t just wag his plumb line at us, pointing out our crookedness. He willingly rolls up his sleeves and does the repair work necessary to get us in line again. Because of his grace, we can be back in true again.

 

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.

 

Why I’m Trying to Embrace the Cattle Prod June 22, 2012

Filed under: Ecclesiastes — Stephanie Rische @ 12:14 pm
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My friend Cheryl has three hobbies she’s passionate about: playing with her cat, Frisky; listening to music by Bebo Norman; and going to the doctor.

Cheryl was born with an extra 21st chromosome, commonly known as Down syndrome. She is also one of the most social, personable individuals I know. To know her is to be her friend. The moment you walk in the room, her whole face lights up in a huge grin. Not content to just sit next to you, she’ll likely take your hand and, with that wide smile of hers, say, “I like you.”

So I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she enjoys visits to the doctor. After all, everyone in the office knows her name, gives her attention, and ultimately has her best interests at heart. Although some parts of the visit may be painful, she knows that all this is necessary so she’ll feel better in the long run.

I was thinking about Cheryl when I came across these words in the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon’s final collection of writings:

The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep.

—Ecclesiastes 12:11

Words of wisdom, as the wise Solomon knew, can be as painful as a cattle prod. Having someone speak truth into our lives can be as piercing, as uncomfortable, as being corralled by a shepherd, given a shot by a doctor.

Unlike Cheryl, I don’t like doctor visits. More often than not, I’d prefer to remain in blissful ignorance. If there’s no diagnosis, then there won’t be any uncomfortable prodding. And perhaps most of all, there’s no need for change.

I’m afraid I’m often the same way when it comes to words of truth and accountability too. I prefer to stay in my place of comfortable oblivion rather than subject myself to the cattle prod of wisdom.

Not long ago Cheryl had surgery to alleviate some chronic back pain she’d been dealing with. While she was recovering, a relative told her, “Now, Cheryl, you need to make sure you take care of yourself so you don’t have to have another surgery.”

A look of sheer disappointment fell over Cheryl’s face. She went into the corner by herself for a few minutes, arms folded as she pondered. Finally she returned to the living room, where her family was gathered.

“I thought about it,” she said, “and I decided I can get another surgery if I want to.”

Oh, Cheryl, if only I were more like you—more open to the cattle prod. I have a feeling I’d be healthier…and a whole lot wiser too.

 

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.