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!

 

… He’s My Daddy :)

To those who know my dad through his work, he is a professional, talented, and all-around classy estate planning attorney. The business he started more than 20 years ago has grown into a successful and renowned law firm. And as a result, attorneys across the country seek out his advice, he gets interviewed in national magazines, and clients travel from around the Midwest (and sometimes even from further away than that) to meet with him. He’s apparently very good at what he does.

As his daughter, however, I was fairly clueless about my dad’s law success until relatively recently. And when I would meet clients or colleagues who would rave about my father’s professionalism, attention to detail, and general attorney-esque skills, I would silently wonder if they had mistaken him for someone else. Because when I think of my dad, I don’t picture a suit and tie, a fancy website, or a law degree. No, I come up with an entirely different set of associations.

To start, despite all his apparent professionalism, my dad (or Papa, as we call him) is one of the funniest people—if not, the funniest person—I know.

chiclets bop

… I rest my case.

Although that’s a recent picture, my dad’s silliness dates back really far—and even has a competitive streak. This became especially apparent whenever my sisters and I convinced him to play “Pretty, Pretty Princess” with us. In case you’re not familiar with classic children’s board games of the 90s, the goal is to amass the most matching-colored plastic jewelry (minus the evil black ring) and wear the fancy plastic crown. My dad succeeded on a regular basis, becoming the prettiest princess of us all:

chiclets papa

My dad also has a bad habit of making up words… or entire languages. “Krullspeak”, as we’ve come to call it, is an odd conglomeration of grammatically incorrect German, words spoken backwards, and entirely made-up vocabulary. When we joke about creating an unofficial dictionary to help translate for potential spouses or future posterity, we’re actually kind of serious. (For instance, when a friend looked at my family’s group text message thread, she needed my help to decipher it.) The German aspect can be especially dangerous. Poor Rascal, unaware that my dad’s version of German couldn’t be trusted, completely confused (and earned the pity of) her friends in Hamburg while visiting during high school. Apparently, “Flieg” doesn’t really translate to “waffle.”

And as if his linguistic and “pretty, pretty princess” skills aren’t enough, my dad is also incredibly clever. As a kid, I experienced this in many positive—and occasionally less-than-positive—ways. Our rhyming competitions were among the more rewarding. Most days, my dad would drive my sisters and me to school on his way to work. And oftentimes during that twenty-plus minute commute, we would have unofficial rhyming battles to come up with the most rhyming sentences in a row. My quick wit (and terribly cheesy poetry) comes from him.

That said, his cleverness wasn’t always beneficial. For example, when we were younger, my sisters and I were obsessed with 101 Dalmatians (I think I dressed up as Penny for 4 Halloweens in a row). And so we often begged my dad to play with us by pretending to be Cruella DeVille. After he had chased us, shrieking, up the stairs and we had taken refuge in a closet, he would then disappear. We stayed in hiding, waiting for him to find us…. but he never did. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I snuck downstairs and peeked around the corner, only to see my dad in front of the TV enjoying a beer. Now that’s some clever babysitting.

But more than all his silliness, cleverness, and his “pretty, pretty princess” skills, I appreciate the fact that my dad is, simply put, a wonderful dad. He not only does the fun “dad things”, like teaching us to fish and drive stick shift, but he has taken such wonderful care of us behind the scenes, working long hours, sacrificing his own desires, and putting our needs before his own. A servant-leader in every sense, he has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure my sisters and I have education, opportunities, and everything we could need. For instance, although we didn’t have much money when I was a kid and he was busy with work, my dad still made the time to take us each out on “dates”, even if it was only to the grocery store to get a free cookie and to ride the mechanical horse at the entrance. My dad has taught me how to work hard, to treat all people with dignity, and to always give my all. I’m the person I am today because of my Papa, and I love him more than he could ever know.

Which reminds me, today is his birthday. I should probably get him a gift. Hmmm… maybe he’d like a new plastic crown? 😉

date night

The “Grandest” of Them All :)

scan0048

Dear blogosphere, I have a very important announcement to make:

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

And because it’s her birthday—and because I’m not in Kansas to be able to give her a HUGE hug—I’ve decided to do the next best thing: dedicate this blog post to her. This one is for you, Omi.

Since I’ve already established that my Omi is the best grandmother in the entire world, I should start by telling you why.

Reason #1: My Omi has seen me at my worst and loves me anyway.

And unfortunately, the “worst” has been going on for quite a long time. Starting with the doctor’s visit as an infant when I projectile pooped up my mom’s coat sleeve (yes, that really happened) to when I figured out how to cheat at “Chutes and Ladders” at age 2 ½, my Omi has a knack for witnessing my less-than-stellar moments. And yet despite experiencing the selfish, bratty, and even poopy side of me, she still loves me unconditionally anyway—and not just me, but each of her 11 grandkids. Thanks, Omi.

Reason #2: My Omi makes the BEST food. Seriously.

Yes, I know that all of you think your grandmothers are the best cooks in the world. And while I’m sure they are great, my Omi beats all of them. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these photos:

156

155

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

<— Christmas Dinner…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… And dessert! ———–>

Seeing is believing. And trust me; tasting takes away any doubt! Her food is the best! 🙂

Reason #3: …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

There is no #3.

But not because I can’t think of a third reason. On the contrary, I can’t think of a way to fit everything it all into a single statement. Because the truth is, what makes my Omi so incredible can’t be boiled down to a simple blog post. She’s one of the most caring and compassionate people I’ve ever known. She has a huge servant’s heart and would literally do anything for anyone at any time. She loves to work behind the scenes and is so humble that she would never accept praise or recognition. She gives generously without expecting anything in return. She loves everyone she meets–and everyone who meets her loves her. She has a knack for reaching those who are often forgotten or ignored. She has the gift of hospitality, and you can’t help but feel welcome and at home in her house. She is patient, gentle, loving, kind and so much more. I thank God every day for the blessing of calling her my Omi. And I pray that one day I will be even a fraction of how wonderful she is.

I love you so very much, Omi! Thanks for being the best–or “grandest”–grandma out there. Happy birthday! 😀

027

25 :)

A 12-foot-tall jar of Nutella?! Talk about a dream come true! :)
A 20-foot-tall jar of Nutella?! Talk about a dream come true! 🙂

It’s that time of year again—time for Steffi to have another birthday! And in keeping with tradition, I’ve compiled a list of 24 things I learned during my 24th year. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Polish makes German look easy.
  2. I should never buy Nutella. Ever.
  3. “No” is not a 4-letter word.
  4. Walking down 35 flights of stairs without stopping WILL, in fact, turn your legs to Jell-O.
  5. If God wants you to do something that seems impossible, He will provide a way to make it happen.
  6. The Christian family is smaller than you think, and hospitality makes it even smaller. (Thank you, Cookes, and the wonderful people at First Trinity Lutheran in Pittsburgh, PA!)
  7. Life doesn’t always turn out the way you would have planned. But though your plans may fail, God will never fail you.
  8. Snail mail is still the best form of communication.
  9. I love, love, LOVE my church.
  10. 8 kg is not very much weight. Especially when your empty carry-on suitcase weighs 5.3 kg on its own.
  11. Pinky promises are worth keeping. (Thanks, Mirek!) 🙂
  12. We are all works in progress.
  13. Contact lenses don’t come in strengths lower than .75
  14. Insurance companies are not forgiving, so always read (and reread!) the fine print.
  15. Americans don’t qualify for “student discounts” on European public transit.
  16. No matter how long it’s been or how far apart you live, real friends let you pick up exactly where you left off. (Love you, Anne-So!) 🙂
  17. Pep talks to my gastrointestinal system will not cure its gluten intolerance.
  18. Always have a Plan B and be fully prepared to use it—because you will probably need to.
  19. If you are proctoring a quiz about the map of Europe in 1648 and the classroom you’re in happens to have a map of Europe in 1648 on display, make sure you cover it up/hide it before the quiz.
  20. Never book a 6 a.m. flight if you can avoid it.
  21. I can go 3 weeks without drinking coffee.
  22. If you see a person walking down the street in a rabbit costume with a top hat and a bow tie at 1 in the morning, you aren’t crazy. It’s probably just the Furry Fandom convention. (If it’s not, then you might actually be crazy.)
  23. Done poorly, parallel parking can result in a flat tire.
  24. …………………. (pause)………………………………………..

January birthdays have their pros and cons. The con side includes things like the inability to have a pool party or that school might be cancelled for a snow day (… Oh wait, most people would consider that a pro, right?) But January birthdays also have their perks. In addition to getting more presents because your parents can shop at the after-Christmas sales (cha-ching!), they also give some extra time to reflect and think about one’s life. So while the rest of the non-January-birthday world had to come up with sappy and meaningful things to say by New Year’s Day, I had an entire extra month to think of something really good. 😉 So here goes:

24. In Christ alone, my hope is found.

24 was full of adventures— finishing surviving my first year of grad school, spending 6 weeks by myself in a strange city, attempting to learn a nearly impossible Slavic language, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, taking risks and learning from failure. 24 was wonderful, awful, emotional, lonely, challenging, joyful, surprising, rewarding and so much more. Perhaps more than any other year, 24 forced me to dig down deep and really ask myself tough questions about who God is, what He is doing in the world, and where I fit into His larger plan. And while I haven’t necessarily “arrived” at the answers yet (do we ever fully get there?), the process of searching has been incredibly gratifying. His Word holds true: the more we seek Him, the more we find Him—and are found in Him.

Which then brings me to my last and final lesson as shown above: in Christ alone, my hope is found. Compared with Him, nothing else matters; He is the only One who can fill my life with hope and joy and meaning. He is my Light, my Strength, my Song. He guides me as I go and illuminates my way. He holds me up when I fall and keeps me going when I feel too weak to carry on. And He fills me to overflowing so I can’t help but sing to Him in praise. My Cornerstone, my solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm. Even when everything else around me crumbles, and nothing feels stable anymore, He remains faithful, and I can trust Him. No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me. Through Him, I can have peace with my past, confidence for my future, and real, true, abundant life in the present. From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. From my entrance into the world 25 years ago until the moment He calls me home, He holds my life securely in His sovereign, nail-scarred hands. I can trust that He is guiding me, He is shaping me, and He will fulfill His purpose for me.

And so I repeat: in Christ alone, my hope is found. May this 25th year be full of adventures, of challenges, and of learning to trust Him more and more. 🙂

The “Ideal” Age

When I was a kid, I hated playing house. I’d play ponies, puppies, abandoned orphan children—anything but house. My friends, of course, loved this game, so rather than play by myself (lame), I would painfully, begrudgingly, resignedly agree to play house… But only if I could be the dog. (In retrospect, this might explain my lack of childhood friends). To my seven-year-old self, being a grown up seemed scary, strange, and let’s be honest, kind of boring. Why in the world would I willingly pretend to be an adult? No thanks. So for the next several years, I continued to play the dog and developed an impressively realistic bark.

Fortunately, though, my friends (the ones who chose to stick around) had mercy on me and occasionally let us play other imaginary games. Sometimes we were animals, other times we played with Barbies, but most of the time, we pretended to be older than we were. We’d choose a different name, make up our life story, and then pick the perfect age, an age when we’d be older, wiser, and have it all figured out. And more often than not, that ideal age was…. 12. At 12, we would be automatically awesome, be WAY smarter than our parents, and finally be able to write in perfect cursive.

(Feel free to laugh.)

Recently, I turned 24 years old—exactly double the “ideal age.” And I have yet to become “automatically awesome,” I still call my parents multiple times each week  day, and my cursive is abysmal.  Needless to say, things didn’t turn out quite as my seven-year-old self expected. But if I’ve learned anything in my twenty-four years, it’s that life is like that. Expectations rarely match reality. Sometimes things turn out better, sometimes worse. But they always work out for the best—for our best. Let me explain.

Romans 8:28 has been one of my favorite Bible verses for the last several years. It says, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Even if you aren’t a Christian, you’ve probably heard some variation of this. Phrases like, “It’s all good,” or “It will get better,” or “Everything will be alright” point to this idea. If we can just keep our chins up and continue pressing on, life will be happy and everything will make sense. As little orphan Annie sang, the sun will come out tomorrow.

But what about when that doesn’t happen? What do we do when life stays hard, when we’re disappointed for the umpteenth time, and our dreams have yet to come true? What if that longed-for “tomorrow” never comes? You’ve lost your bottom dollar, and it’s still raining. What then?

Has God forgotten you? Broken His promises? Left you out to dry? If He’s still here and in control, what is He doing? And why in the world isn’t He “working for [your] good”?

He still is: “For those whom He knew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” (Romans 8:29). Becoming more like Jesus—that’s the best thing for us. And that’s exactly what God is doing.

You see, everything we experience—the good, the bad and the mediocrely in-between—all of that is meant to draw us closer to our Savior and make us more like Him. That includes the conflict with your coworker, the traffic you’re stuck in, the bills you pay, and the heartache you experience. The big and the small, the happy and the sad, the stuff that doesn’t make any sense. Everything in your life and in any given day has been specifically designed, intricately crafted, and perfectly timed to draw you into a closer relationship with God. Nothing is too hard for Him to handle, and nothing is too small for Him to use. Our job is simple: to let Him do His. When we cooperate in this process and we’re open to His working, things go much more smoothly for us. And the coolest thing happens: our perspectives start to match His.

Switchfoot is one of my all-time favorite bands. In fact, during my sophomore year of college, I saw them in concert twice in one week. (Unintentionally… but that’s another story). On their Beautiful Letdown album, they have a song which is serendipitously titled “Twenty-Four.” And it just so happens to deal directly with this post:

Twenty four oceans
Twenty four skies
Twenty four failures
Twenty four tries
Twenty four finds me
In twenty-fourth place
Twenty four drop outs
At the end of the day
Life is not what I thought it was
Twenty four hours ago

Still I’m singing Spirit take me up in arms with You
And I’m not who I thought I was twenty four hours ago
Still I’m singing Spirit take me up in arms with You

[…]

Oh, oh I am the second man now
And You’re raising the dead in me

Written by lead singer Jon Forman when he was (you guessed it!) 24 years old, these lyrics explain how I felt at 12 and how we all feel at some point. Life doesn’t turn out as we hoped, but God always knows what He’s doing. As we surrender to Him, He changes us from the inside out. And even when we can’t see it or feel it, we can trust that He is making us new.

God is always good, always faithful, and always working on your behalf, whether you’re 12, 24, or anywhere beyond or in between.

Double the Fun

I can’t believe it. I really and truly can’t believe it. Today, my baby sisters turn 42.

Okay, okay, they aren’t actually 42. But together, their age adds up to 42. That’s right, my little twin sisters are now officially 21 years old.

So. Weird.

I remember it like yesterday… Or rather, like two decades ago yesterday. (The memory is a wee bit fuzzy). One moment, I’d been shipped off to my grandparents’ house to spend the night, and the next—bam!—suddenly there were two tiny, wrinkled, identical aliens that were supposedly my sisters.

So. Weird.

Here I need to pause to clarify: I’m not being mean; they were very, very wrinkled and very funny-looking. Even my parents will attest to this. But their odd appearance didn’t change the fact that I loved them and they were, quite literally, my baby sisters. Even now, 21 years later, I still think of them as my “kiddos,” and I love them dearly.

However, growing up with twin siblings wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. In fact, walks in the park usually presented the most problems. My mom would be pushing them in their 90’s lime green double stroller, and complete strangers would appear out of nowhere and bombard us with questions. “Oh my goodness, are they TWINS?! How old are they? What are their names? They are sooooooooooo cute!” Invariably, their voices would climb to obnoxiously high pitches and volumes as they expressed their excitement. “Can I hold one???” And with that, my adorable little bundles of attention-stealing joy would capture the heart of yet another innocent bystander. Which left me as the awkward older sister. Bummer. To make matters worse, at age 2 they even were cast in a real, bona fide movie. So while they were hanging out with Martin Sheen, Patty Duke, and Jason London, I was watching The Brave Little Toaster. Double bummer.

As if their ascent to “stardom” wasn’t enough, at age six they became obsessed with Mary-Kate and Ashley, especially their mystery movies. My doting parents indulged them and bought them “real” spy gear, including fingerprinting kits, lock pickers and, my least favorite, the eavesdropping device. This translucent dish and headphones allowed them to listen in on conversations in other rooms. And, of course, my room became their most frequent target.

Don’t worry, though; I managed to leave my mark on them too. In fact, the mark remains to this day. When choosing names for my sisters, my parents spent long hours picking out the best, most beautiful names they could find. They avoided rhymes (like Hallie and Callie) and alliteration (like Susie and Sallie) and opted instead for exotic names, uncommon names, names as beautiful as the European countries from which they came: Kirsten (pronounced “Keer-sten”) and Anneliese (pronounced “On-uh-lee-zuh” ). Charming, memorable, elegant, and altogether lovely.

What my parents didn’t consider was that their other child was 2 ½ . Which meant that she couldn’t say words like Anneliese and Kirsten. So what happened? Anneliese became Anne-uh-weezuh, which quickly devolved into Weasel. And Kirsten simply became Rascal.

Anneliese and Kirsten… Weasel and Rascal…. Oops.

They still go by their nicknames today…. Double oops.

Despite my accidental passive aggression,  I really do love my little sisters. They make it super easy because, honestly, they are the best younger sisters a girl could ask for. They’re caring, they’re kind, they give me back massages (Rascal had to take a sports massage class for her athletic training/premed major; she’s awesome!). They listen to me, they forgive me even when I mess up big time, and they love me unconditionally. They are always there for me, and I know that, night or day, rain or shine, no matter what, I can count on them. We laugh together, cry together, and laugh together until we cry. I love them more than a silly blog post could ever say, and I consider myself so, so, so immeasurably blessed to call them my sisters. I thank God for them daily, and I could not be prouder of who they are—and who they are becoming. And I pray that, Lord-willing, the next 21 years will be full of even more inside jokes, impromptu dance parties, deep conversations, and incredible memories.

And so, Weasel and Rascal, I wish you the best 42nd birthday in the entire world! Rascal, don’t catch you hair on fire; Weasel don’t spit on the cake; and both of you, don’t faint from blowing out all those candles. 😉