27 :)

Well, friends, here we are yet again at the 27th of January. Although this day is likely just another Wednesday for you, it happens to be quite significant for me. “Why?” you ask. I’ll give you a hint: it begins with a “birth” and ends with a “day.” That’s right! Today is my birthday! And in keeping with my annual birthday tradition, it’s also the day when I post an entry reflecting on the lessons and experiences of the previous year. Since this year I am turning 27 (yes, it’s my Golden Birthday!), I will share with you 27 lessons from last year. Here they are, in no particular order* (*except for the final one). Buckle up and enjoy.

  1. Students (and archivists) can be bribed with cookies. If you don’t have cookies, chocolate is also effective.
  2. I actually like Brussel sprouts.
  3. If you get upgraded to Premium Economy on an international flight, try not to spill the free wine all over yourself right after takeoff. Or you will smell like an alcoholic for the remaining 9 hours of the flight.
  4. Kill the first ant you see in your kitchen. If you let it live, you will regret it. 
  5. I don’t have to be intimidated by German grocery store dairy sections. TBD on whether I can overcome my fear of weird sliced German meats.
  6. Although I love teaching, I really, really, really don’t enjoy grading.
  7. If you turn the key twice while locking a Polish apartment door, it cannot be opened from the inside.
  8. I (still) have the best advisor.
  9. Double check the name on your boarding pass before getting in line at the gate, or you might be stuck in Heathrow for an extra 4 hours.
  10. If you register for a German bank account, don’t lose your officially assigned PIN number.
  11. When you’re having a bad day or things aren’t going well, be honest about your feelings, rather than pretending that everything is perfect.
  12. On a first date (especially one to a super fancy restaurant), go to the restroom after dinner. Even if you don’t need to use the facilities, this will provide a invaluable opportunity to check your teeth. Because the last thing you want is to look in the mirror at home 3 hours later and see that, yes, that piece of spinach is still there.
  13. There are few problems in life that waffle fries with Chick-Fil-A sauce can’t fix.
  14. You can make free phone calls to the US via Gmail without having a Google Voice number.
  15. Never go to Primark (or any equally popular European clothing store) on a Saturday.
  16. Essential prescription medications will inevitably get stuck for 6 weeks in Polish customs.
  17. Being a bridesmaid is a blast—and being a bridesmaid twice is even better!
  18. Airlines using the metric system are more forgiving with overweight luggage than those using the U.S. system. (ie, 1 kilo is less egregious than 2.2 pounds).
  19. Memes make everything better.
  20. If you’re planning to run 20 miles or more, don’t trust the weather forecast. Because chances are, if the forecast says “sunny”, you’ll get caught in a downpour. And if the forecast says “rain”, you’re going to get sunburned.
  21. I will likely never understand Polish numbers.
  22. The world is very, very small.
  23. If you decide to go to dinner with your roommate, remember that you are in public and not at home. Otherwise, you both might burst into made-up songs at highly inopportune moments.
  24. Call the Midwife is hopelessly addicting.
  25. Some random Facebook messages are worth replying to.
  26. Expat Thanksgivings aren’t so bad after all, especially when your best friend joins you for them.

One of the benefits of writing this blog post annually is, well, knowing in advance that I am going to write it. This means that I have ample time to reflect on the “big lesson” of the year. As I looked back on this 26th year of my life, I recognized that it was an important one, and I did a lot of significant things: taught my own class, ran my first marathon, wrote and defended my dissertation prospectus, moved home from Atlanta, learned to read old German handwriting, took 6 weeks of Polish, and moved to Berlin. It’s been a whirlwind–a very busy whirlwind. Yes, I’ve been around the world and back, and that’s pretty cool. But what makes the last year so special isn’t the “special” things I’ve done, but the fact that I have shared them with people who are special to me. And so, here is my 27th (or rather #1) lesson for this year:

Friendship makes life so much richer. 

While I was in Austria, I discovered that adventures are best shared. And though I still hold that to be true, my understanding of “adventure” has shifted. You see, I now understand that it’s not the extraordinary experiences in themselves that matter, but it’s the chance to do life alongside people you care about. Because even when those people are scattered across the globe–when they’re miles, time zones, and continents away–they still stay close to your heart. For my grad school peeps and my Atlanta church family, for my long-time kamp friends and my brand-new Berlin friends, and for all the other people I love both at home and abroad, I am grateful. Thanks to these friendships, my life is rich and my heart is full. And I know that I am one of the luckiest birthday girls in the whole wide world, because I have so many people whom I dearly love.

And so, my friends, as I celebrate my 27th birthday, I also want to take a moment to thank you for making this last year and the 26 leading up to it so wonderful. Thank you for bringing me joy, for enriching my life, and for reminding me that I am loved, even from afar. Without you, this “Golden Birthday” of mine would be a tarnished silver at best. 😉

Note: I’ve only included pictures from the last year. If you aren’t shown here, please know that it’s due to a lack of space, rather than a lack of love!

 

26 :)

A not-yet-boiled pierog, which looks remarkably like a smiley face. :)
A not-yet-boiled pierog, which looks remarkably like a smiley face. 🙂

It’s that time of year again. Time for Steffi to have another birthday.

Which means it’s also time for Steffi to dedicate a blog entry to reflecting on all that has happened since her previous birthday. So in keeping with tradition, Steffi has compiled a list of life lessons from the past year. She will now stop writing in the 3rd person (she knows that referring to oneself in the 3rd person is slightly obnoxious, but she figured she could get away with it—at least temporarily—because it is her birthday), and she will commence her self-reflective list-making. 🙂

25 was a big year. I finished up my graduate coursework (I’ll never have to take another class again! Yay!… oh wait. Now I have to teach. #details), I completed a half-marathon in Nashville in a time of 1:51.30, beating my previous personal best by a whole 7 ½ minutes, I took an unconventional spring break trip to Holland, Michigan, and experienced a true northern “heat wave” (ie, when the March temperatures reached—gasp!—a whopping 33 degrees Fahrenheit). Along these weather lines, I survived my first southern Snowpocalypse and even taught my friends the joys of snow-diapering (far superior to sledding) and making snow-ice cream. Delicious!

The summer was equally memorable, with an 8-week trip to Germany and Poland by way of Kansas (because that makes so much sense geographically). While autumn left much to be desired in terms of sleep and a social life, the satisfaction of passing my comprehensive exams made all the hours spent as a “library troll” (at least mostly) worthwhile. And so with that fairly sappy introduction, I will move onto the part you’ve all be eagerly waiting for….

Steffi’s 25 biggest lessons of being 25 (Note: my initial list included 37 points. Apparently I’m a hurry to age, haha):

  1. The Polish words for “Kathy” and “buckwheat” are essentially the same.
  2. Babies don’t universally hate me. At least when they are sleeping. 🙂 (shout-out to Blake, my brand-new baby cousin).
  3. Fried pierogi > boiled pierogi. Hands down.
  4. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton is still my favorite book.
  5. Never walk through a nature preserve after it rains. Unless you enjoy the brisk crunch of snail shells beneath your shoes.
  6. I will never be too old for sleepovers.
  7. The Emory shuttle waits for no one. Even when it’s pouring down rain.
  8. God hears and answers specific prayers.
  9. You never know who you’ll meet in Poland.
  10. Sunsets are worth catching.
  11. Natural Gas companies aren’t perfect.
  12. I am capable of more than I think.
  13. When the motor in your washing machine breaks, you should probably talk to your landlady sooner rather than later. Because no matter how much you hope the machine will magically fix itself, odds are that it won’t.
  14. I actually enjoy hiking.
  15. Grad school and acne go together.
  16. Even extroverts need solitude sometimes.
  17. I can write 24 pages in 24 hours.
  18. Even 5 years later, Erasmus friendships are such a gift.
  19. Kansas City has a world-class baseball team. (See what I did there? #punny)
  20. Being single isn’t a bad thing.
  21. If traveling in a foreign country, don’t use the self-check-out lane.
  22. Whether in Kansas City or Minnesota, weddings are worth the trip.
  23. How we view God directly impacts how we live.
  24. I am still addicted to Milka bars.
  25. “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

All in all, 25 was an incredible year, full of laughter, friendships, and meaningful conversations. Perhaps like never before, I witnessed God’s hand shaping my life and orchestrating each day. But 25 also contained its share of challenges, with its many “ups” matched by a set of corresponding “downs.” Because for all its joy and life, 25 was also a year of loneliness, frustration, anxiety, and discouragement. I complained more than I care to admit, and I wasted more time worrying than I spent having a rock-solid faith. But it was in the midst of this fear and frustration that I came to understand what Paul meant when he wrote, “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

You see, as unpleasant as these low points were, it was during them that I discovered Jesus to be kinder, closer, more faithful and more loving than I had ever dared to hope or imagine. And because I have experienced His presence and His care in this deep, real, and personal way, I can’t help but love Him—truly love Him—all the more.

So here’s to you, 25. You were great, you were challenging, and I’m not sure I would repeat you if given the chance. But I am thankful for how you shaped me more into the person I am today. 26, you have a tough act to follow. But since the Author of my story is infinitely creative, I have a sneaking suspicion that you’ll be up for the challenge. 😉

My favorite photo from 25. :) Credit to my very patient from Anja.
My favorite photo from 25. 🙂 Credit to Anja, my very skilled (and patient) friend.

24 :)

Mozart & Me

January 27th. On this day in history in…

  • 1343: Pope Clement VI issued the papal bull Unigenitus to justify the use of indulgences. Almost 200 years later, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses protested the indulgences and started the Protestant Reformation.
  • 1606: the trial of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, began. In case you forgot who they were, “remember, remember the 5th of November,” and you might figure it out. 😉
  • 1756: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria. In five years, he would be giving concerts for European royalty, thereby becoming an eighteenth-century child pop star. Move over, Bieber.
  • 1785: The University of Georgia was founded, becoming the first public university in the United States. (For all my Atlanta friends, GO DAWGS!)
  • 1832: Lewis Carroll was born. He would later go on to demonstrate the correlation between illegal substances and a successful writing career. (Don’t worry; I’m not following his lead.)
  • 1888: The National Geographic Society was founded in Washington, D.C.
  • 1945: The Red Army liberated the inmates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
  • 1989: I was born.*

*Side note: I actually have two birthdays. You see, I was born at 6:35 a.m. on January 27th. But because of the time difference, I was born at 11:35 p.m. on January 26th in Central Standard Time. So though I was born once, I have two birth dates. January 27th is my German (and “official”) birthday, but January 26th is my “American birthday.” Cool, huh? 🙂

Yes, I realize that my birthday isn’t quite as significant as the historical events and figures mentioned above. But since it’s my birthday, please humor me. Because it’s my birthday, I would like to keep with a semi-longstanding (since my 22nd birthday) tradition and make a list of the life lessons gleaned from my 23rd year. Here goes…

  1. Avoid driving anywhere in Atlanta between the hours of 7-10 a.m., 4-8 p.m., and any time in between.
  2. Don’t lean against a gas stove. Especially near the “on” switch.
  3. Coffee is not a meal replacement.
  4. When spray-painting something, make sure that you are an adequate distance from any important, non-sprayable surfaces…. Like concrete.
  5. Calamity is the test of integrity.
  6. Expect technology to fail you, especially if you need to print something right before class.
  7. The bus waits for no one.
  8. Quality umbrellas are worth the investment.
  9. If possible, never get pink eye.
  10. My Savior is real, and He lives!
  11. People actually live in Branson.
  12. Coming up with 7 new tweets each day isn’t as easy as it looks.
  13. Grace really IS amazing.
  14. Hydrate or die-drate!
  15. God has no five-second rule.
  16. Back up the files on your computer.
  17. Alabama is in the central time zone.
  18. Foam parties are fun… until you can’t breathe. #killerbubbles
  19. Life is short and precious.
  20. While being early is good, being an hour and a half early can be bad. Especially at outdoor summer weddings in Texas.
  21. Running frantically through the airport to catch a flight isn’t fun.
  22. Parking isn’t free. Or even cheap.
  23. Velcro and rayon don’t mix.

And the bonus one… In everything, give thanks.

23 was a big year. It had many highs, like spending two weeks in Israel, living on an “Island” with 70 of my best friends, hanging out in a teepee all summer, moving to Atlanta, starting graduate school, and meeting all kinds of incredible people along the way. And many lows: unmet expectations, long days, homesickness, goodbyes, and lives ended too soon. My heart rejoiced and broke over and again, but in the midst of everything, I learned to give thanks. In the good, the bad, and the annoyingly mediocre, we have so much to be thankful for. Thankfulness opens our hearts to His working, and in thankfulness we enter into His presence. The more we thank God, the more we see Him for who He is.

Sometimes this is easy, and other times it’s hard. Life isn’t perfect, and we don’t feel like being thankful. But though we can’t control our circumstances or even our feelings, we can control our response. Though being thankful isn’t always easy, it’s always worth it.

Out of all 23 life lessons, this one left the greatest impact on me. You see, the more I gave thanks, the more natural it became. Even on the harder days—the ones with pink eye, fender benders, missed buses and bad news—God helped me to thank Him. And then the coolest thing happened: as I gave Him thanks, He gave me joy—joy that not even the roughest circumstances could shake.

I have no idea what 24 holds for me. It could be the best year of my life or the most challenging year yet. But no matter what happens, I know that God is faithful, and by His grace, I will keep giving Him thanks from now until my next birthday–the German AND American one. 😉

Like Mama, Like Daughter

Excuse me. Attention, please. Could everyone listen up? Please stop whatever you are doing and redirect your focus here because I have a very important announcement to make:

I have the best mom in the entire world. And today is her birthday.

In honor of my amazing Mama, I would like to dedicate this post to her. Mama, you are incredible, and I could not be more thankful that you were born.

Yes, I realize that I have a vested interest in my mother’s birth because, obviously, if she hadn’t been born, I wouldn’t be here. But all that biological necessity aside, I am genuinely thankful that my Mama is here.

To all of you who do not have the pleasure of knowing my mother, I guess I should tell you about her. As I’ve already noted, she is absolutely amazing. And as you can probably tell from the picture, she has brown hair and brown eyes (I get mine from her). But these demographic details don’t do my mother justice. So let’s dig a little deeper.

First of all, my Mama is a really great mom. Yes, she’s done more than her fair share of cooking and cleaning and sock-matching, but her motherly skills don’t stop there. She takes every opportunity to go above and beyond the call of duty. Take, for instance, her public service announcements. When you watch a movie with her, expect to hear comments such as (A Cinderella Story) “If you’re ever in an earthquake, don’t stand under the doorway” or (in response to the booby traps in Home Alone 3) “They’d be dead right now,“ and my personal favorite (from the opening scene in A Walk to Remember),”If you ever jump off a platform into shallow water in the middle of the night, I will kill you.”

But her concerned commentary isn’t limited to movie watching. It permeates every aspect of daily life. From my mother, I learned such useful lessons as, “Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and blow your nose in a Kleenex” and “Never walk under the hanging TVs in Wal-Mart; they might fall on you” and, of course, the cardinal rule of everything: “If Mama’s hungry, ain’t nobody happy.”

While these comments are humorous, my mom can also be serious…. About chickens and snowmen. At Christmas, Frosty and his friends camp out in our downstairs bathroom. It boggles my mind how many snowmen she fits into that small space. Every time I come home on a break, our decorative chicken population has multiplied exponentially. In fact, I can expect a tour of our newest chicken additions, along with how much she paid for them at the garage sales.

Speaking of garage sales, my mom is an expert “saler” (The rest of us have only achieved “junior saler” status). On an average weekend, she can find anywhere between 10 and 15 items for less than $3… total. And I’m not talking about cheap, junky things; I mean nice, quality things. An almost brand-new ice cream maker for 50 cents. The Lord of the Rings deluxe edition DVD set for $1. And, of course, lots and lots of chickens.

My mom may be a little quirky at times (as she often reminds me, “Everyone is normal until you get to know them”), but I couldn’t love her more for it. My Mama is incredible, and I don’t know what I would do without her. Over the years, she’s been my diaper changer, softball coach and catcher, chauffeur, hug giver, stage mom, sounding board, advice-source, role model, friend… and so much more. As I’ve already said, she’s the best Mama a girl could ask for, and I am immeasurably blessed to call her mine.

Mama, I wish I could be there to give you a huge hug and wish you happy birthday in person, but since I can’t, I guess this blog will have to do. Thank you for loving me unconditionally, for listening to me without judging me, for sharing your wisdom with me, for serving everyone unselfishly and—most of all—for showing me what it means to follow Jesus. I love you dearly, and I am so thankful for you. I hope your day has been so very special and I hope that one day I’m half as wonderful as you…

Like mother Mama, like daughter. 😉

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.