“You have a bad day…”

Good days include views like this...
Good days include views like this…
... watching the Berlin marathon...
… watching the Berlin marathon…
ritter sport
… and, of course, Ritter Sport chocolate. 🙂

Some days are great. The sun shines brightly, I have an extra spring in my step, and the world is my figurative oyster.

Since coming to Berlin 2.5 weeks ago, I’ve been fortunate to have many of these days. I found a church immediately, joined a small group, and met many really awesome people through that. Only a week after arriving, I managed to buy a bike for well within my budget, so now I can get around the (massive) city with relative ease. I even managed to register with the Bürgeramt (bureaucratic office) after only 2 days of trying, which I’ve heard is next to impossible. To top it all off, I have a wonderful roommate, Nutella in my cupboard, and cornflakes every morning. Yes, many days are great.

But on the other hand, some days aren’t all that awesome. You might think that, because I’m “living the dream” and doing my dissertation research in Berlin that everything would be hunky-dory. I usually think like this. And when I catch myself not being happy enough, I start saying (sometimes aloud) stuff like, “Get it together, Steffi!” and “Be happy, Steffi!” … which can be dangerous because there are a lot of German girls named Steffi, haha. I want to be happy. I want to be content. I want to experience joy. But if I’m completely honest, that’s sometimes just not the case.

Yesterday was one of those days. I was minding my own archival business when I stumbled upon a 20-year-old dissertation that bears an eerie resemblance to mine. And to make things worse, this discovery came just a week after I had a major breakthrough with my own project. After months years of trying to nail it down, I’d finally managed to nail down what I am doing and why it matters. And just as my happiness balloon had started to get off the ground, the “reality Grinch” snuck up behind me and popped it, leaving me feeling sad and deflated once again. All I wanted to do was crawl back under the covers and cry. But I knew that wouldn’t solve anything.

Grad school can be like that—a stupid, frustrating, manic emotional roller-coaster with no apparent way off. You can spend countless hours trying to carve out your own minuscule niche in the vast universe of knowledge… only to find out that the spot was taken decades ago. Uggggghhhhh.

Yes, I know that I’m ranting. Yes, I realize that this isn’t the end of the world. And yes, I even get that my dissertation’s Doppelgänger can’t be exactly like mine simply because I am a different person, using different sources, and writing at a different time. I understand all of this and can accept it on a rational level. But sometimes, like right now, I just don’t feel like being rational. Right now, I just need to be able to rant.

In moments like this, I don’t really feel like reading the Bible. And yet, if I stop and think about it, I’m profoundly grateful for the example it provides, especially in the Psalms. In a remarkably short span of verses, the psalmists often experience and express a whole range of human emotion: anger, frustration, discouragement, guilt, sadness, etc. This encourages me, not only because I identify with many of these feelings, but also because they remind me that God has room for my complaints. I don’t have to have everything together to approach Him; I don’t need to wear a happy face to enter His presence. Instead, He lets me meet Him exactly as I am—irrational rant and all. And I find this to be strangely comforting, like the spiritual equivalent of someone saying, “That stinks, and I’m sorry”, instead of trying to fix it. Sometimes there is no solution, or if there is, I’m not ready to accept it yet. Because sometimes I just need the room to rant and blog and cry.

Yesterday was crappy. In many ways, the sun did “come out tomorrow” (by that I mean, today), and I have a much better perspective on my situation. I know that everything will be alright and, at some point, this bad day will just be a distant memory (albeit one immortalized in a blog post). And looking back on yesterday, I am thankful for family, friends, and a Savior who love me enough to let me be upset. And I’m grateful for the Psalms and for their tangible reminder that feelings, even negative ones, are okay.

That said, I could still use some comfort food. Where did I put that Nutella?

Amen.
Amen.
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Right On Track

I never meant to run track. In fact, I wanted to be a softball player, just like my mom. She’d been a star high school pitcher and even went on to play in college. Although I knew a career in the NCAA was out of my league, I figured that I could at least make the BVHS roster. However, I forgot to factor in a few minor details.

1)      I couldn’t throw overhand. For years I had tried, but to no avail. My arm simply wouldn’t cooperate. And apparently, throwing is an important part of softball.

2)      Batting was a challenge. Although I could zip around the bases with semi-remarkable speed, I had a hard time getting on them. Which is kind of essential.

3)      Try-outs aren’t my forte. Something about performing athletically under pressure—and the watchful eye of a coach—makes me really nervous. As a result, the week of try-outs was disastrous. During the pitching session on Monday morning, I got nailed in the head with a softball. And it was all downhill from there. By the way, the term “softball” is a misnomer; they are definitely not soft.

Needless to say, my high-school softball career was short-lived. And by that I mean that it never even existed. Somehow I made the C-team, (I think the coach felt sorry for me because of the large bruise on my forehead), but even that didn’t last long. After a week of failing miserably at practice, I faced the warm-up music and realized that Kansas 5A softball wasn’t for me.

But I’ve never been one to sit at home and twiddle my thumbs, so I needed something else to do. And that’s when my former volleyball coach suggested I go out for track. At this point, I’d never run more than a couple miles at a time—and even then I thought I might die. Freshman year I started to run a little; volleyball conditioning and PE class had whipped me into better shape. (At the end of the year fitness test, I decided to run the mile with the guys instead of the girls. But at the starting line, I accidentally tripped Matt Sobcyzinski, and he fell on his face. I still feel bad about it). Anyway, I’d always been athletic, but I had never considered myself a runner. So I took her advice and came to practice. And that’s when I fell in love with running.

Scratch that. I fell in love-hate with running.

You see, running is not an easy-to-love sport. Yes, you can love the results of running, or you can love the satisfaction of finishing a race or a difficult route. But with the exception of a few top athletes (or clinically crazy folks), you can’t always love running. Because running is hard; it’s exhausting. Heck, it involves breaking down the bonds between your muscles and depriving them of oxygen for extended periods of time. Yuck. Though rewarding, running isn’t always pleasant. But for some reason, I keep doing it. Why? Great question.

Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote about running, and his words might hold a few clues. I don’t know if he competed in the first annual Nike sandal 10K, or if he was part of the “run barefoot” movement, but he understood running and my paradoxical relationship with it. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, he urges believers to “run in such a way as to get the prize” and to “rejoice when [they] run into trials and problems, because they develop endurance” (Romans 5:3). But my all-time favorite Paul-ism on running comes from Philippians 3,

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Just like I’m more motivated to run if I’m training for a specific race or goal, Paul encourages us to run with the end in mind. If I sign up for a half-marathon in July (which would be crazy since July is ridiculously hot!), my likelihood of running consistently skyrockets. Having a tangible goal is essential to successful training. Otherwise, I’ll take every chance to eat that bag of potato chips rather than jog around the block. But if I have a race ahead of me, suddenly my workouts take on a whole new meaning and purpose. I’m no longer running aimlessly or just for the heck of it; no, I’m running to win… or at least a finisher’s medal.

In the same way, Paul urges us to run with purpose. Don’t look backward; that’s a great way to face-plant. Instead, look ahead and press on toward Christ. HE is your goal; HE is your prize. Keep your eyes fixed on Him, and run for all you’ve got. No, it won’t always be fun. Yes, you may trip or get a shin splint or two. You will get tired, and you will be frustrated sometimes. But in the end when you cross that heavenly finish line, you’ll hear the saints and your Savior cheering your name.

So in the meantime, “we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God.” (Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message).

I’ll see you on the track. 🙂

The Five (Million) Second Rule

Life has a lot of rules. Some of them are written down, like the Ten Commandments or the “No Diving” sign at the pool. Others, though, fall into the common knowledge category. Here are some examples:

When in a crowded elevator, look straight forward with gaze slightly above eye-level. Keep your elbows in. And don’t you dare pass gas.

Look both ways before crossing the street. And if you’re vacationing in the UK, look again just to be safe. (Hint: Oncoming traffic will be coming from the right. Winston Churchill made this mistake; you could too.)

If it’s stuck to the bottom of a park bench, don’t eat it. The gum’s pretty color doesn’t change its “ABC” status. In case you missed kindergarten,  that stands for “Already Been Chewed.” Sick nasty.

Finally, there’s the Five-Second Rule. This one really needs no explanation because we all know it and most of us follow it. Although this rule comes with a few possible variations, such as the Three-Second Rule, the Eight-Second Rule, and, in extreme cases, the No-Second Rule. In short, if a piece of food has been on the ground or other unwanted surface for more than __X___ number of seconds, it’s no longer fit for consumption. Or put simply, DO NOT EAT IT. The length of time may vary based on the nature of the food, its level of stickiness, the cleanliness of the environment, the location (i.e., at home or in a public restroom), and other similar factors. But the one underlying principle doesn’t change: Food can become too contaminated for us to eat. Unless maybe you’re from Louisiana….

As the daughter of an anti-pathogen activist (also known as a germaphobe), I observe the Five-Second Rule with strict adherence, oftentimes leaning more toward the No-Second variety. However, occasionally, against my better anti-bacterial judgment, I make an exception. To be eaten by me after contamination, the food must be incredible, irreplaceable, and scrumdidilyumptious. Such an event is noteworthy and rare, like what happened to me a few weeks ago.

I was in Norman, Oklahoma (another rare event, especially for an OSU alum). It was early, and I was leaving the home of my dear friend and former co-counselor Lydia. And I was hungry. Fortunately, though, I had anticipated this moment a few days before while in Stillwater, where I purchased an extra cinnamon roll from Spudnuts.  Since most of the world hasn’t been lucky enough to eat a Spudnut, let me enlighten you about these heavenly pastries. Made from a secret recipe from elves from Germany using potato flour, these donuts don’t just melt in your mouth; they melt your mouth. And to top it all off, they are basically gluten free. Which means that I LOVE them. Unfortunately, though, Stillwater is my closest source for Spudnuts and since I don’t make the I-35 trek very often anymore, my Spudnut encounters are few and far between. However, in a moment of brilliant foresight, I bought an extra cinnamon roll to eat in Lydia’s driveway. And that’s when things got a little “Spud-nutty.”

If I had to wager, I’d bet that 99% of the cinnamon-roll-eating population eats them the same way: From the outside in. I’m no exception to this; I like to eat the outer layers before savoring the ooey, gooey, cinnamon-y center. That morning, I followed this usual pattern with my Spudnut,. I was just about to eat the middle when—BAM!—gravity suddenly cut in.

As if in slow motion, the center of the Spudnut slipped off the remaining outer shell and fell from my hand. Desperately, I reached out to save it, but in my frantic state, I only managed to redirect its fall (and get icing on my arm). Heartbroken, I looked down, expecting to see the ooey, gooey object of my longing covered with countless nasty things from the floorboard. But then I found it! Instead of falling to the land of the No-Second Rule, the Spudnut rested in the space between my seat and the door, miraculously not touching anything disgusting. After close examination, I declared it worthy of consumption, and I enjoyed the last bite of my Spudnut cinnamon roll. Mmmm, delicious. Then a thought interrupted my moment of glucose-induced bliss:

God has no Five-Second Rule.

At first glance, that may seem condemning. “Of course,” you might think, “God is judgmental and angry, like a dad I can never please. I’ve messed up so many times; there’s no way He would ever want me.” But that’s not the point at all. No, quite on the contrary. God doesn’t have a Five-Second Rule; He has a Five-MILLION Second Rule!!!

You see, God loves you. Even though you’ve messed up. In fact, the Bible says that God proves His love by sending Christ to die for us while we were sinners. He doesn’t look for people who are perfect; He’s not interested in the trophies in your case or the zeroes at the end of your paycheck; He wants you.  Exactly as you are. No matter what you’ve done. No matter where you’ve been. If you have Jesus Christ as your Savior, nothing, I repeat nothing, can separate you from His love. It’s too unwavering, too unconditional, too unconventional and too unrelenting. You may feel like squished pea on the floor; even if you weren’t stuck to the ground, no one would want you anyway. But that’s not how your Heavenly Father sees you. To Him, you’re the center of the cinnamon roll, the most important thing on His plate, so to speak. He cares about you more than you can even imagine, and He isn’t going to let you go. So quit running away, quit making excuses, and quit buying into the enemy’s lies and run. Run to Him. Cry out to Him. Ask Him to pick you up again.

And when you do, you’ll see something amazing: He’s been holding you all along. 🙂

A Glimpse of Grace

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Grace.

One of those Christian-ese terms that you often hear at church or in worship songs. While most Christians would tell you that they know what grace is, they probably wouldn’t be able to explain it. Why not? Because most of us have a vague idea about grace, but we don’t fully grasp it. After all, articulation is the litmus of comprehension. In other words, if you can’t explain a concept to someone else, you don’t really understand it.

When it comes to grace, I generally fall into the perplexed category. Although I wouldn’t call myself the governor of the “state of confusion,” I definitely have a local address, especially regarding grace. That’s because grace is more than just a far-off theological term or a prayer you say before chowing down. Not only is grace an integral part of the Gospel and, but it also plays an essential role in our lives. And that can make it difficult to grasp. Like a zoomed-in camera lens, we find ourselves too close to see the entire “grace picture.” Sometimes, though, God hoists us on His shoulders, giving us the bird’s-eye-view. In these moments, we catch a glimpse of grace. For me, Wednesday April 18th held one such moment.

For a week and a half, I’d been denying the existence of my combined sinus and ear infection, hoping that it would get bored and leave me alone. But finally after twelve hours of difficulty in swallowing, I broke down and went to my local Walgreen’s Take Care Clinic. Here the kindhearted nurse practitioner Shelley took care of me (no pun intended) and told me that, yes, I did indeed have a sinus and ear infection (Note: When infected, your eardrums look bloodshot. Weird, huh?). After fifteen minutes of friendly conversation and symptom checking, she sent me happily on my way. She even called in the prescription at the Wal-Mart pharmacy, so I could pick it up on my way home. Wonderful.

Looking at my watch, I realized that I was within the 2-4 p.m. Sonic happy hour, so I treated myself to a strawberry Limeade. Then I remembered that I had wedding gifts to purchase. Since Target was conveniently located right behind Sonic, I dropped in. Ten minutes later, I strolled up to the nearest register with an 8-pack of Sterilite mixing bowls and a set of four glasses in hand. My mission was almost complete.

Then my sweet cashier, bless his heart, offered to bag my gifts. No sooner had I said, “Sure,” did I hear the sickening thud and clank of the glasses, in their box, hitting the linoleum floor. More striking, though, than the sound of my purchase colliding with the ground was the expression on my cashier’s face. I could almost feel his heart sink as he quickly picked up the box to survey the damage. That’s when I noticed his “New Team Member” sticker where his name tag should have been. Poor kid. I drop things all the time. What if it were my first day on the job? Dropping a set of four glasses would have been my greatest fear. And that’s exactly what he did. Together we opened the box and checked all the glasses: Not a mark on any of them! Hallelujah! Smiling, I told him not to worry about it, that I would still take the glasses. He sighed with relief.

Thirty minutes later, I walked out of Wal-Mart, antibiotic in hand, and slid into my little red Volvo. As I started to back out of the parking space, I noticed a man in my rearview mirror. He was signaling me that I was clear to go. Normally, I am an incredibly cautious and competent driver. I’d never been in an accident; I’d never hit anyone or anything. But as I watched him motion me backward, I must have gotten distracted because, before I knew it, I heard the sickening sound of impact. My fender had just sideswiped the bumper and wheel of the car next to me. Shoot. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the traffic-director man then said, “That’s my car.” Double shoot. Every time I enter or leave a parking space and the car next to me has people in it, I hold my breath because I’m terrified of hitting them; it’s my greatest parking-lot fear. And that’s exactly what I did. Needless to say, my heart sank.

The next few minutes were a blur. He rushed over to examine his car. I called my mom to ask about insurance. His wife and newborn baby appeared from inside the store. As I was simultaneously trying to explain the situation to my mom and offering profuse apologies to them, the man and his pretty wife looked closer at the damage. The red mark from my Volvo came easily off the hubcap, and only a small paint scratch remained on the vehicle itself. When I asked if they wanted my insurance information, they said that a claim would only raise both our rates, and a paint scratch wasn’t worth the trouble. I gave them my name and number nonetheless and told them to contact me if something changed, but they told me repeatedly that it was fine and I didn’t need to worry. It wasn’t until after I’d backed out successfully and moved into an empty area that the tears began to fall.

Grace. In the span of sixty minutes, I’d given it and received it. And began to better understand it.

If asked, most Christians would probably define grace as “getting something you don’t deserve,” like a gift. And while I think that definition holds true to an extent, it also falls pitifully short. It fails to capture the emotion, the will and the heart behind it. Grace isn’t like purchasing a wedding gift or a birthday present, which is a one-time, semi-obligatory display of kindness. No, it’s a conscious decision, driven by compassion, to tell someone that it’s okay, that they are okay, and that they don’t have to worry because everything is going to be alright. It’s the choice to give a smile instead of a reprimand, a hug instead of a slap. It’s unexpected. It’s unwarranted.  It’s completely contrary to human nature. And that’s exactly why when Jesus calls us to be ambassadors for His Gospel, He wants us to be agents of His grace. Mercy triumphs over judgment, and God’s grace saves us.

Which I guess makes it pretty darn “amazing.” 🙂

22 :)

It’s that time of year again. No, it’s not Christmas; that was a month ago. No, it’s not election season, although that’s certainly coming up. The birds aren’t yet chirping, and the dormant flowers, trees and black bears have yet to waken from their long winter’s naps. No, to the rest of the world (or at least to 364/365ths of it) this date has little to no significance. But to me, well, it’s kind of a big deal.

That’s right. It’s my birthday.

Birthdays are funny little critters, aren’t they? It seems a bit odd that we celebrate the day that our mothers experienced the 2nd greatest pain known to humankind (2nd only to being burned alive. Yikes). Instead of making this day all about us, we actually should spend it in humble service and lavish gratitude to our mothers. But I guess that’s why we have Mother’s Day.

Side Note: Here I would like to take a moment to specifically thank my mother. She gave birth to me a) 4 weeks early, b) in a foreign country with no close relatives except my dad there (why? See reason “a”) and c) at an Army hospital without an epidural or any sort of pain medication—despite being told that she would be medicated. Apparently, the Army couldn’t administer it because the doctor was on call—not for the hospital but for World War III, in case it happened to begin. Eek. Anyway, thanks, Mama! I love you!

Okay, back to birthdays.

Whether or not it makes cultural, biological or metaphysical sense, birthdays are something we like to celebrate. And I suppose we do so with good reason. After all, the arrival of a birthday means a lot: We’ve survived another year. Yay! Yippee! Woohoo! Woot woot! Not only are we 365 days older, but (hopefully) we’re also a tad bit wiser…. Or at least better at pretending to be. Haha 🙂

Speaking of wisdom, I’m not exactly the wisest owl in the parliament (that’s the technical name for a group of owls. Cool, huh?) However, since it is my birthday and because you are apparently a captive audience, I would like to take a moment to share some tidbits I’ve gleaned from this most recent year of my life.

Conveniently, there happen to be 23 of them. (Coincidence? I think not.) So here they are, in a somewhat particular order.

1. Always set at least two alarms to wake up in the morning, especially if you’re only getting 6 hours of sleep. If your body needs the rest, it will make every effort to steal it, regardless of your schedule.

2. (See #1) Needing caffeine is not a sign of weakness, just of knowing your own limitations. Especially if you have Mexican History class from 3:15-4:45 in the afternoon. Me cansa.

3. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but a lack of showering does not necessarily signify a spiritual deficiency.

4. Frisbees and foreheads don’t mix well, particularly if the latter is careening through the air at breakneck speeds. (Note: the use of the adjective “breakneck” is figurative. I don’t think Frisbees could actually break one’s neck. At least, I hope not.)

5. Dog poo and pants don’t mix.

6. Words are powerful. So use them wisely.

7. God does some of His most beautiful work after the ugliest tragedies. Generally in the world and specifically in our lives.

8. Don’t sleep with your contacts in. Especially if you only wear one. (i.e. a single bloodshot eye looks really awkward.)

9. Real life isn’t found by the wall but on the dance floor. So get out there!

10. It’s okay to cry. So don’t be afraid to.

11. When praying for God to give you a sense of humor, choose an opportune moment. i.e. NOT directly before plunging a toilet.

12. Sometimes the greatest gifts come in the smallest packages… or envelopes.

13. Being busy is never an excuse for not being loving.

14. If there’s a zombie-dino apocalypse and you’re on a boat, you’re dead. (#nerdwisdom. Miss you, Trey!)

15. Forgiveness feels amazing.

16. Always wear two pairs of plastic gloves when scrubbing commercial kitchen drains. And don’t scrub the one under the industrial-strength dishwasher when it is on.

17. The best cure for feeling down is to build someone else up.

18. The GRE is like a Metallica concert. Best only experienced once. And with earplugs.

19. Life is fragile and precious. Treasure it; cherish it. Love it.

20. If you’re gluten intolerant, you probably shouldn’t eat it. Unless it’s your grandmother’s chocolate cake (thank you, Omi!). Or Giordano’s pizza.

21. Friends are a blessing straight from God. They see your soul and love you—not just anyway, but because of it.

22. You can’t control your life. So quit trying. Instead let God do His job. He’s a pro.

23. I love Jesus.

Although the first 22 lessons are all important and true, this last one is by far the most important and truest. I really, really, really love Jesus. I can’t say it enough, and I can’t make it any clearer. But for the sake of this post, I am going to give it the ol’ post-college try.

I was incredibly blessed to grow up in a Christian home. My parents love the Lord, and they taught me from a very young age about Jesus. As a child, I trusted Him as my Savior, and I’ve had a relationship with Him ever since. However, it wasn’t until this last year—year 23—that I truly fell in love with Jesus. So this recap would be incomplete if I didn’t tell you how much He means to me.

You see, all my life I’ve known about Him. I’ve known that He loves me. And I’ve known that I love Him. But at some point in the last year, that love became undeniably and unexpectedly and overwhelmingly real to me. And not only have I started to understand His love, but I have also began to love Him back in a way I would have never thought possible.

So now, here on my 23rd birthday and embarking on my next year of life, I want to say this: I love Jesus. He is my Everything. I love Him more than this post and my words could ever say. He’s the reason I get up in the morning. He’s the joy behind my smile. He’s the hope behind my tears. He’s the beat to which I dance. He’s the song I sing. He’s the love I give to others. He’s my life and my breath and the blood flowing through my veins. He’s the Sun my life revolves around, and without Him, my life would mean nothing. Even if I were to lose everything tomorrow, and if all I hold dear were taken from me, this truth would still remain: I love Him, I love Him, I love Him.

I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, and I can’t predict the future. 23 may be the best year yet or the hardest I’ve ever experienced. But that’s okay, and I’ll be fine either way. Because I love Jesus. And not only do I love Him, but I want to live for Him. In everything I do. May Your name be lifted high, and may You be glorified.

And so for the rest of my days—be they many or few—here I am, Jesus. I am living for you. I thank You; I praise You; I trust You. And above all else, Jesus, I love You.

To You be all the glory and honor and praise.

Amen.

My Math Problem

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Wrong. Whatever doesn’t kill you the first time will try again. Especially if your assassin starts with a “Calc” and ends with a “2.”

No, my math class didn’t literally attempt to murder me, but it gave a heck-of-a figurative try.

It was really all my fault, though; I should have never enrolled in the class in the first place. But as a first-semester freshman with AP Calc 1 behind me and a 4.0 high school GPA in my pocket, I didn’t know any better. However, I quickly learned that Calc 2 was not my cup of tea. Or coffee. Or any other caffeinated beverage that would be necessary for a 7:30 a.m. MWF class. But I didn’t learn quickly enough to drop the class during the so-called grace period. Thus, after getting my first, ummm, unfortunate test grade, I realized the truth: I’d been weighed, measured and found wanting… and I did NOT want to be there. But I was stuck. Ahh, shucks.

After completing the bad-grade grieving, I decided to take action. I went to the OSU Math Lab for help, invested in The Idiot’s Guide to Calculus 2, started meeting weekly with a tutor named Steven, and became a regular visitor to my professor’s office. For the next 3+ months, I worked my rear off (and still gained the “freshman 15”… even though the prof’s office was on the 5th floor of the Math-Sciences Building and I took the stairs every time. Go figure.) I spent countless hours working and reworking and re-reworking math problems, poured over multiple textbooks and websites, and prayed that God would somehow, in some way, miraculously make this material make sense. Although I never slept with my book under my pillow, I did contemplate it several times. But try and try and try as I might, my mind just couldn’t “get” Calc 2. Sure, I had minor light-bulb moments, and I experienced a few flashes of clarity; however, overall, my brain remained foggy and in the dark.

Then one day while in my professor’s office yet again after I had asked yet another question about derivatives or integrals or series, Dr. Ku interrupted me. In an outburst of frustration he said this, “You don’t have to understand it! You just have to be able to do it!”

Taken aback, I was silent for a moment. Then, hesitating, I replied, “Wait, so I don’t have to get why it works; I just need to know how to make it work?”

“Yes!” he exclaimed, nodding vehemently, “So stop asking these questions!”

Whoops.

Unsure what to say, I thanked him, packed up my pile of notes, and left. As I awkwardly lumbered down the five flights of stairs with my overly-stuffed backpack, I started to process what he had said. All along, I had been worrying about understanding all of Calc 2. I had wrongly believed that I needed to grasp every single concept in its entirety, which was impossible. All I actually needed to do was understand was how to work the problems and arrive at the correct answers. I had been putting unrealistic expectations on myself. As a college freshman, there was absolutely no way I would be able to fully comprehend 300 years’ worth of Calculus theory in a single semester—or ever. But luckily, as my prof so clearly pointed out, that wasn’t the point of the class. No, the point was to learn the information and be able to correctly apply it to math problems. True to “Steffi form,” I had been waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay overcomplicating things. So now leaving Dr. Ku’s office, I felt a sudden and unexpected sense of freedom. I did understand how to solve the problems, and I did have the skills necessary to find the correct answers. And in order to pass this class, that’s all I really needed. Score!

Since that accidental epiphany, I’ve been gradually learning to apply this truth to other areas of my life. And this week at the Kanakuk Institute, I found yet another opportunity.

For the last three days, Dr. Glenn Kreider from Dallas Theological Seminary taught us about the Trinity. To put it in not-so-academic terms, my mind was blown. In case you don’t know much about the Trinity, let me make a meager attempt to explain. Basically, the doctrine of the Trinity states that there is only one God, but that there are three “Persons” within this: God the Father, God the Son (aka Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit. They are each distinct from one another, and they are all separately God, but there is still only one God. There is no hierarchy within this; they are all equal, and they are all equally God. Or, in honor of the math nature of this blog: 1+1+1=1

I repeat: Mind = Blown.

If you’re familiar at all with Christianity, you should (hopefully) be familiar with this belief. It’s a central and essential part of the Christian faith, but because it’s confusing and (again) mind-blowing, you probably haven’t heard many sermons preached about it. I can’t speak for pastors, but my guess is that we rarely talk about the Trinity because we don’t fully understand it. Not only do we not understand it, but I would contend that we cannot understand it. Because to understand it fully would likely (pardon the graphic nature of this statement) blow our mindsliterally. We are so finite, and our brains are so limited and small that there is no way we can completely comprehend a God who is infinite, unlimited, and unbelievably great. It’s functionally impossible. And that, my friends, is what makes the Christian faith so awesome.

You see, who would want to worship a God that we could control and manipulate? Who would want to worship a God that we could totally understand and comprehend? Why would you worship a God that you could “put in a box” and conform to fit your desires and needs? I wouldn’t want to. Why? Because a God I could control and understand would be no God at all. Because God, by definition (pardon the irony) cannot be defined. I could go on and on and on about how indefinable and incredible and beyond description God is, but for the sake of brevity (and not going on indefinitely), I won’t. Simply believe me when I say that this is the way it must be because He is God and we are not.

Some of you might be frustrated because, like me, you want to understand everything. You want to know the who’s and how’s and why’s. You want everything to be clearly classified and to easily made sense of—or have the possibility of making sense. I understand exactly where you are coming from because, like I said, I am wired the same way. And so now I appeal to you with the modified words of my Calc 2 professor: You don’t have to understand it! You just have to believe it and live it!

Faith isn’t easy. It requires us to believe in Someone we can’t see or touch or fully understand. But what makes faith in our God so amazing is that, unlike the inanimate Calc 2 material, He loves us and desires to make Himself known to us.

So from everything we can “derive” this one thing: God wants to be the most “integral” part of your life; won’t you let Him? “Series-ously.” 😉

Through the “Eye of the Tiger”

As the high school football season comes to a close, I would like to take a moment to honor a very special group of individuals. These people may not fit the typical football “mold;” they come in all shapes and sizes; and you won’t see their names on the starting lineup. But without them, high school football—and any other high-profile team sport—would cease to exist as we know it. Who are these “x-factor” personalities? These game changers? These difference makers? They are none other than your team mascots.

That’s right; mascots receive very little recognition. Their efforts go largely unnoticed. The hours of sweat, sweat… and more sweat are usually unseen (literally), but they are incredibly, unbelievably and invaluably important. Without a mascot, who would little children clamor around for photos? Without a mascot, who would represent the school on expensive athletic apparel? Without a mascot, where would the “face” of the school be? On behalf of all high-school sports fans, I would like to say “thanks” to mascots everywhere. You are valued and appreciated.

Okay, yes, I know; this all sounds more than a little absurd. And as usual, I would have to agree with you. However, as former high school mascot, I really do have a special place in my heart for all those who don the mask of famed obscurity. During my senior year, I had the opportunity (or rather, I begged the Assistant Principal for the opportunity) to be the Tiger for most of the football games. As strange as this likely seems, this mascot-ship was a dream come true. Ever since my first day at BVHS, I knew I wanted to be the mascot and every year brought me one step closer to making that dream a reality. When my first game finally rolled around, I could not have been more excited. If mascots were not silent, I would have shouted and yelled for joy. I was the Tiger, and I couldn’t have been happier about it. 🙂

Here I should note another fun facet of mascothood at my high school: No one knew it was me. According to long-standing BV tradition, the identity of the mascot was to be kept secret. Only my closest friends were allowed to know; to the rest of the school, it was a mystery. Naturally, this made my stint as mascot even more thrilling, and I enjoyed it for all it was worth. For instance, before the Homecoming parade, I got permission to leave class early and put on the costume under the pretense of visiting the nurse. Or when our football team played an away game, I snuck my costume to the stadium, concealing the oversized head under a massively large blanket in my backseat. (Unfortunately, Volvo trunks weren’t designed for mascot transportation. Thank you, Sweden.) Every game night, I was living the dream, my smile underneath the mask rivaling the permanent one on it. Life was good. I loved it.

However, sometimes, being a mascot had its downsides. For one thing, the costume was unbelievably hot with very little ventilation. To my knowledge, it had also never been washed, so a certain indefinable odor camped out inside the head. Not only did the head reek, but it also wreaked havoc on my hair. To call it a bird’s nest would be a gross understatement; a “bird apartment complex” would be far more accurate. But I think the most challenging part of mascotdom was simple: the silence. By definition, mascots don’t talk. Which, in case you were wondering, can severely limit one’s social interactions. Although I definitely loved my stint as the Tiger, the time came when I was ready to pass the head-shaped baton to someone else. I missed my friends, I missed cheering in the student section, and most of all, I missed simply being me.

But unfortunately, the Tiger wasn’t my only mask. No, I wear a lot of other ones. And if I had to guess, I bet that you do too.

As human beings, we have a very real fear of being ourselves and, furthermore, of letting people know us for who we are. So instead of overcoming that fear, we close ourselves off, putting on invisible masks that no one can see, but that keep us from truly being seen. For each person, this plays out differently. For some, it may be the mask of independence; we act like we don’t need anyone else, saying that we can handle everything on our own. For others, this mask is perfectionism; if we have it all together and act like everything is great, then no one will ever know otherwise. Some people get absorbed in work, hobbies, sports, music and other entertainments in their attempt to hide. Still others turn to harmful behaviors, finding their satisfaction in unhealthy relationships or the abuse of various substances. Whatever our mask of choice may be, the core problem is the same: We’re messed up and we know it, but we don’t want anyone else to see. And so we hide behind the masks of our own making, closing ourselves off from the people around us, hoping no one will notice our hurt and fear underneath.

But Someone does notice. And He wants to set us free.

You see, God created us for glory. He desires to shine through us and to use us to make Him known. He loves us dearly, and He desperately wants what is best for us. And this “best” can’t be found behind a mask. As Galatians 5:1 states, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Jesus died, so we could live—and live abundantly. Yet far too often, we sell ourselves short, choosing instead the familiar comfort of bondage rather than the joy and liberty He desperately wants to give us.

For once, I have no bullet-pointed plan for achieving this, no simple to-do list to solve this problem. Instead, I have only a poem I wrote during my freshman year of high school. I pray that God uses this poem to speak to your heart as He has mine.

The Mask

I wore a mask for all my life
To cover up my inward strife.
My pain, my shame, my sorrow grew,
And somewhere deep inside I knew
Masks do not help; they just bring pain
And even can make one insane.
They blind; they hurt; they never heal
The only cure: Simply to kneel
At the foot of His great cross
And give Him your heart; He paid the cost.
He bought me, a slave of sin
Put my broken heart together again.
He took off my mask; He set me free.
Now I can live eternally!
He bore my sin, my cross, my shame
Forgives me time and time again
He loves me and loves you so.
He just wants to let you know.
Jesus Christ will change your heart.
He’s loved you from the very start.
He’ll take off your mask; now here’s the deal:
All you have to do is kneel.

Life is found beyond the mask, not behind it. Won’t you let Him set you free?