Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

The Mother-Love of God May 13, 2013

Filed under: God's love — Stephanie Rische @ 1:24 pm
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My friend Sarah had a baby shower not long ago, and I was asked to share something before gift-opening time. I found myself stymied at first, not knowing firsthand what it’s like to be a mom, but as I pondered more, I realized I do know what it’s like to have a mom. I’ve been given the incomparable gift of a mom whose unconditional love has pointed me to the love of God. So whether you are a mom or have had a mom, I’d like to share Sarah’s shower message with you.

***

When we think about God, we usually picture him as a Father, and it’s true—he’s everything a good dad should be: loving, protective, strong, fair in his discipline. But who knew? The Bible also says that God is like a mother. Apparently there’s something about the love of a mom that shows us a side of God’s character nothing else can.

 

1. Like a mom, God loves his children before they’re even born.

Sarah, when you and John announced that you were expecting a baby, the room could barely contain your excitement. We could tell how overjoyed you were about this little person, even before you met her. Even when you were so sick you could barely get out of bed, you were already forming a special connection with her. The truth was obvious to the world: you loved your little girl.

 

God feels the same way about us, his children. He knew us even before we were born, just as he knows your baby girl even now, all four pounds of her. He knows every little detail about her—what color her eyes will be, if she’ll be musical or artistic or social, what will make her giggle, what will make her cry, what will make her heart pound with passion, what will make her heart break. And God loves her, even now.

 

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body

and knit me together in my mother’s womb….

You saw me before I was born.

Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.

They cannot be numbered!

—Psalm 139:13, 16-17

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2. Like a mom, God loves his children when they’re completely dependent on him.

Sarah, when that baby is placed in your arms in the hospital, the love will be a little one-sided at first. She won’t be able to pay you for taking care of her, she won’t be able to do any chores around the house to earn her keep, she won’t even be able to say thank you. But you know what? You’ll love her anyway, even though she can’t reciprocate your love.

That unconditional mother-love is the kind of love God has for us. We don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it, and we’re totally dependent on him. Yet he showers his love on us anyway.

 

Can a mother forget her nursing child?

Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?

But even if that were possible,

I would not forget you!
—Isaiah 49:15

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3. Like a mom, God loves his children as they grow up.

Sarah, as your daughter grows up and starts to spread her wings, your love for her will only grow deeper. The way you show her love will look different—you won’t be changing her diaper or feeding her mashed peas anymore—but your love won’t change. You’ll always be her mom.

 

Psalm 131 talks about the beautiful bond that takes place between a mother and a child when the child chooses to be close—not because they need something, but just because they love their mom.

 

I have calmed and quieted myself,

like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.

Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
—Psalm 131:2

 

Sarah, I see that in your relationship with your own mom. You talk with her, you laugh with her, you share things with her—not just when you need something, but because she’s your friend. The same is true in our relationship with God. He wants us to come to him with our needs, yes, but he also delights when we come to him simply because we want to be in his presence. Like a weaned child.

 

So, Sarah, as you enter motherhood and as your daughter goes through each stage, I pray that you will grow in your love for her. And along the way, I pray that God will give you new glimpses into his own love. His unconditional, extravagant, mother-like love.

***

Postscript: Sarah and John’s baby girl, Hannah, entered the world two months ago. Happy first Mother’s Day, Sarah!

 

SarahK

 

April Book Discussion May 3, 2013

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Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club for April (which I introduced here). April’s selection was The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.

 

I’ll throw out some discussion topics, and you can post your feedback in the comments section—about these topics or about other things you’d like to talk about.

 

Discussion #1: Nailing the Issues

In my estimation, this book’s greatest strength is that it hits on hot-button issues for Christian women and starts a much-needed conversation. As I flipped to the table of contents, I was struck by how many of the topics evoked visceral reactions in me (modesty, submission, purity, fertility). I don’t think I’m alone in this—these are charged issues for many women because some churches have a history of coming down hard and graceless in these areas. I appreciate that this book encourages us to be intentional as we contemplate what biblical womanhood really looks like—what’s culture, what’s tradition, and what’s truly biblical.

“We dishonor the original intent and purpose of the Epistles when we assume they were written in a vacuum.” (p. 260)

 

Throughout these pages, Rachel extends an invitation to the Church to allow God to be creative in the way he gifts and equips women. She says that women can follow God in ways that look different for each person and encourages us to make use of our gifts, even the ones that aren’t traditionally seen as “feminine.”

“The Bible does not present us with a single model for womanhood, and the notion that it contains a sort of one-size-fits-all formula for how to be a woman of faith is a myth.” (p. 295)

 

Are any of the topics addressed in this book hot-button issues for you? How do you feel the Church has handled these topics—both historically and now?

 

Discussion #2: Entertainment Value

I’m a sucker for books about people who sign up to make their everyday lives an experiment, so I enjoyed Rachel’s premise. I appreciated her sense of humor in her retelling of events—especially her Martha Stewart cooking adventures, her backyard camping trip, and her introduction to parenting with Baby Chip.

 

What did you think of Rachel’s experiment? Would you ever embark on a similar journey?

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Discussion #3: A “Slap-Bang” Approach

Having read my share of A. J. Jacobs, I was hoping Rachel would really dive in and explore biblical womanhood. Some of her experiments felt gimmicky and halfhearted—something of a “slap-bang” approach, to borrow her mom’s phrase.

 

On a related note, I would have liked to see more nuanced arguments to engage a conservative perspective. I usually agreed with her nuggets of wisdom at the end of each chapter, but it felt like she set up straw men at the opposite extreme (polygamists, misogynists, the Amish) without exploring what a more balanced approach might look like. Her claims stemmed from a pragmatic starting point (what worked for her), not from a biblical standpoint. For example, this is where she lands in the submission chapter:

“Life happened, and Dan and I quickly realized that we functioned best as a team of equal partners.” (p. 204)

 

It feels too easy to me to brush off parts of the Bible because they don’t “work.” After all, carrying your cross doesn’t seem like a particularly practical premise to build a religion on. How do you distinguish what scriptural teachings are unchanging standards and which ones are relevant only for a rachel5particular cultural context?

 

Discussion #4: The Highlight

My favorite chapter is the one on valor. Rachel offers authentic, credible insights into Proverbs 31 that I found freeing and life giving.

“Eschet chayil [woman of valor] is at its core a blessing—one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally.” (p. 88)

 

See my post here for more thoughts on women of valor.

 

Did you have a favorite part of the book or something that particularly resonated with you?

 

 

Rating

I commend Rachel for bringing these tough topics to the forefront of conversation among Christian women, and for that I say to her, “Eschet chayil!” Even so, I would have liked to see a more balanced, wholehearted approach. I would give this book 3 stars.

3 stars

 

 

 

 

What rating would you give this book?

 

{Remember: I’ll send a free book to one randomly selected commenter!}

 

April Book of the Month Club April 5, 2013

Congratulations to Jolyn, who won the free book giveaway for March!

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And now, the book of the month for April…The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.

 

Here’s the description of the book from the author’s website:

Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment—a year of biblical womanhood.

 

Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year. Pursuing a different virtue each month, Evans learns the hard way that her quest for biblical womanhood requires more than a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4).​

 

rachel2It means growing out her hair, making her own clothes, covering her head, obeying her husband, rising before dawn, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church, and even camping out in the front yard during her period. With just the right mixture of humor and insight, compassion and incredulity, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an exercise in scriptural exploration and spiritual contemplation.

 

What does God truly expect of women, and is there really a prescription for biblical womanhood? Come along with Evans as she looks for answers in the rich heritage of biblical heroines, models of grace, and all-around women of valor.

 

We’ll be discussing the book at the end of April (and again, there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter). Please join us!

 

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.

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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!

 

Tuesday’s Child June 19, 2012

Filed under: Proverbs — Stephanie Rische @ 8:11 am
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When I was little, I was secretly envious of my sister. Not because she grew up eating ice cream on a regular basis or because she got to stay up late and play bridge with Mom and “the ladies” while I was in bed. No, it was all because of the day of her birth.

Meghan was born on a Friday, and according to the little nursery rhyme, that meant she was “loving and giving.” And here’s the thing: she was. Even from a young age, we had to keep a close eye on her piggy bank because she was liable to hand the whole thing over to the nearest person she deemed in need.

I was born on a Tuesday, which allegedly meant I was “full of grace.” At age ten, I took that to mean I made elegant, ballet-like movements. And while it’s true that I was enrolled in gymnastics, I had kicked way too many people while doing cartwheels in the hallway for anyone to believe there was anything akin to grace happening there. But being loving and giving—now that felt like something a little more practical.

I was watching the trials for the Olympics the other day, and I was struck by the undeniable grace of the divers in the platform event. As I watched, it hit me that maybe physical grace and spiritual grace have more in common than I realized. In both cases, whether you’re diving off the high dive or forgiving someone who has wronged you, there’s a kind of apparent effortlessness to it.

Although the one doing the gracing knows how many bruises and tears have brought them to this point, the spectators only see something beautiful. For an action to be truly graceful, there can’t be a sense of “Look at me!” or “Hey, everyone, check out how hard this is!” No, to be “full of grace” is to do something hard and make it look easy.

As with diving, grace-giving can feel a lot like standing on a 33-foot ledge, looking down into the swirling water below. That is to say, terrifying. And neither of these Olympic tasks happens automatically—they both require a lot of practice. But grace is worth the effort. It is so extraordinary, so compelling, that the watching world takes note when it happens.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this little proverb lately—so simple, but definitely not easy:

A gracious woman gains respect.

—Proverbs 11:16

So today I want to put my toes right up to the ledge and dive headfirst into grace. I’ll never be a platform diver, but with a little practice, I just may start looking more like the Tuesday’s child I was intended to be.

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.