Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

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.


To Anyone Who Feels Underloved on Valentine’s Day February 14, 2013

Filed under: Love — Stephanie Rische @ 12:35 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

unloved4I write this with no credentials except that I’ve spent my share of Valentine’s Days solo. And I know firsthand that there’s no way around it: it stinks to feel alone on Valentine’s Day.


I remember being single and having nice people try to cheer me up whenever February 14 rolled around. (Which it inevitably did. Every. Single Year.) I appreciated their kindness, but it kind of felt like getting a stick of gum when you’re ravenous for steak.


All that to say, I won’t pretend that anything I can say will make this day easier. But I feel compelled to say it anyway, just to let you know that you are not invisible. You are not alone. And even when it doesn’t feel like it, you are loved.


Today, if you feel betrayed or abandoned by someone you thought would never leave, this is what God says to you:

I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.

—Hebrews 13:15


Today, if you feel alone in this big world, God says:

Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

—Matthew 28:20


Today, if you feel forgotten, like so many leftovers, God says:

I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

—Isaiah 49:15-16


Today, if you feel like you got passed over when Cupid was flinging his arrows, this is what God says:

I have loved you…with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.

—Jeremiah 31:3


Today, if you feel unnoticed, damaged, unappreciated, devalued, here’s God’s promise:

The Lord your God is living among you.

He is a mighty savior.

He will take delight in you with gladness.

With his love, he will calm all your fears.

He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

—Zephaniah 3:17


As for me, my love isn’t close to God’s love. It has conditions, it lets people down, it’s forgetful, it’s self-centered and fickle and cantankerous. But my prayer this Valentine’s Day is that God will weed out my own love from my heart and replace it with his love. Love that is unconditional and pure and selfless.


“In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give.”

—C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves


It’s with that generous love that I want to love God and my husband and my family and my friends and strangers. And it’s with that love that I love you, whoever you are, wherever you are, however alone you’re feeling right now.


Wherever you find yourself on Valentine’s Day, know this:
You. Are. Loved.


Love in the Little Things February 12, 2013

Filed under: Love — Stephanie Rische @ 1:45 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Sometimes love is in the big things—gem-studded jewelry, exotic trips, big promises, grandiose gestures. But more often, as I was reminded the other day, it’s the little, everyday actions that string together to make up this thing we call love.

little things


It was a Friday, and I’d just met a big deadline at work, so when I got home, Daniel suggested we go out to dinner to celebrate. We decided to try a new Thai place to replace “our” Thai restaurant that bit the economic dust (you can read the sad story here). When our food arrived, Daniel surprised me by pulling something out of his bag.


“A plate?” I asked.


When I looked more closely, things started to make more sense. The “Your Special Day” plate!


When I was a kid, Mom had a special red plate she pulled out on significant occasions—not just on birthdays, but also on days we accomplished something worth celebrating. A piano recital. A satisfactory report card. A basketball win. Shortly after I moved out on my own, my sister made me a plate like it, and now Daniel has been swept along in the tradition too.




But I certainly wasn’t expecting to have the plate show up in the middle of Tusk Thai restaurant. It was a little thing, perhaps, but it meant something big to me.


The next day I got a card in the mail—an expected burst of yellow amid the junk mail and bills. What’s this? I wondered. Christmas is over, it’s not my birthday…


I tore open the envelope to find a card from my friend Sarah that said, “Thanks for being you. I’m looking forward to another year of being your friend.” A card for no reason at all, just to tell me I meant something to her. It was a series of little things, really…she picked out just the right card, she wrote words with real pen and ink, she put a stamp in the corner so it would make its way to my mailbox. Little things; big love.


How often am I looking to God for grand gestures to prove his love—the impossible miracle, the big answer to prayer, the parting of a proverbial sea? And to be certain, God does offer those large-scale proofs of love at times. But he also gives us undeniable bread-crumb trails of his love through the smaller things too. A ray of sunshine bursting through the cloudy sky. The provision of daily bread. The innocent laughter of a child. An unlikely burst of joy that surges despite all evidence to the contrary.


May my eyes ever be open to those little acts of love. Because who knows—maybe those little things are big things after all.



Epilogue: Daniel and I noticed throughout dinner that we seemed to be getting more attention than the other customers. The waiter was extra friendly, and the owner kept walking by our table—not saying anything, but obviously observing us. When we’d finished our meals and were waiting for the check, we were surprised to see the waiter coming out with a plate of sumptuous coconut custard. I looked over my shoulder, wondering if this sweet treat was missing its intended mark. But no, the waiter’s eyes landed straight on me, eagerly awaiting my reaction.


I fumbled out something appreciative, but I was baffled.


“It’s not my birthday!” I whispered to Daniel after the waiter left. And then it hit me. Of course! The plate. He must have assumed “Your Special Day” meant birthday. Hence the free dessert.




I certainly wasn’t going to complain. As I looked at the last bite of custard, which Daniel had saved for me, as usual, it felt for all the world like another little piece of love, right there on my plate.