Just Say “No”

Poland Cztery 111

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved words. Especially big ones.

My all-time favorite long English word (featured on my “About Steffi” page—yes, this word should feel special) is arachibutyrophobia, which is the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth. Onomatopoeia (BOOM!) is another quintessential choice, and you really can’t go wrong with words like jurisprudence, rhododendron and flabbergasted.

At some point, I got bored with long English words. (Sorry, “antidisestablishmentarianism.” You just aren’t that cool. And let’s be honest, your “anti” and “dis” technically cancel each other out, and then all you have left is “establishmentarianism.”) So I decided to move onto bigger- and better-worded pastures. And where did I land? In German, of course. When I looked around and saw words like Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän (Danube steamship company captain), siebentausendzweihundertvierundfünfzig (7,254) and Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (beef labeling regulation & delegation of supervision law), I knew I’d found my Heimat.

This summer’s Polish intensive course added a new element to my long-word language obsession. Even though the words were substantially shorter than the aforementioned German giants, the consonant clusters should count for extra credit. Words like przepraszam (excuse me), dziewiȩtdziesiąt (90) and proszȩ przechodzić przez skrzyżowanie (please cross at the crosswalk)—these are the stuff of Slavic language learner’s nightmares (No lie. When the Russian students at Pitt complained about their language, their teacher would show the crosswalk sentence… and they never grumbled again).

And yet despite conquering the absurd precision of German and the next-to-impossible dreaded Polish consonant clusters, my hardest word is still one of the shortest in the English language. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to master this monosyllabic morpheme:

“No.”

That’s right, these two letters—or rather, the lack of these two letters—have caused me more trouble than any German, Polish, or antidisestablished word combined. For some reason, I have a ridiculously hard time saying no.

In high school, this meant that I was over-committed to too many things. The best (or worst) example comes from the second semester of my junior year when I found myself taking two AP classes, running varsity track, playing club volleyball, in charge of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and in the spring main-stage play—all at the same time. (I remember one particular afternoon when I had triple-booked myself and had no idea how to be three places at once… and then we had a snow day. Thanks for enabling me, nature!) College wasn’t much better, and I managed to fill up my plate(s) yet again to overflowing. If you’ve ever tried to keep full plates spinning, let me tell you a secret: it inevitably makes a big mess. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by the time I reached grad school, but history repeated itself (no pun intended). And that’s how I found myself exhausted, burnt out, and on the edge of tears when I arrived at my church’s small group leader retreat two weeks ago.

The week had been terrible—another classic instance of Steffi taking on too much and not saying no. As president of my university’s Graduate History Society, I’d been in charge of not one, not two, but three GHS events that week in addition to taking three courses and TAing for one. By the time I got to the retreat that Saturday morning, I was spent. And Ashley, my Education Pastor, could tell.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“Okay,” I replied.

“Really?” (with one eyebrow visibly raised)

“No,” I admitted.

“I didn’t think so. Let’s talk.”

So we did. In the course of a very tear-and-snot-filled hour and a half, God used Ashley to show me His heart—and the value of saying “no.” You see, all my life I’d never felt good enough. Yes, God had opened doors for me to do the things I love (like learning Polish this summer or going to graduate school for history), but I never felt content with it. Or more accurately, I could never let myself be content. Instead, I felt guilty about God’s blessings, so rather than receiving them with gratitude, I tried to add to them the things that I thought were somehow “more valuable,” such as leading a small group at church or doing one more extracurricular leadership activity. Driven by shame and fear, I constantly overcompensated and wound up over-committed… which left me feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, and guilty. Because nothing I did—and nothing I could add to my already-full spinning plates—was able fill the void I felt inside. And ironically, my attempts to add meaning and purpose to my life caused me to miss the calling God had so lovingly, graciously (and let’s be honest) obviously placed in front of me. By trying to make myself better, I was missing out on God’s best for me.

And so I said “no” to being a small group leader this year—a very unexpected take-away from the small group leader retreat, to say the least! Though in hindsight, I shouldn’t have said “yes” in the first place, God was sovereign over that decision too: if I hadn’t initially agreed to be a leader, I would have missed out on a huge lesson about a very little word. You see, contrary to popular (or at least, Steffi) belief, saying “no” isn’t a sign of failure or weakness. Rather, it’s an indicator of maturity and strength. While I definitely have a long way to go, I’m starting to understand that sometimes the best way to say “yes” to God is to say “no” to something else. As finite human beings, we can’t do everything, but by God’s grace we can do some things to make His kingdom come—things He’s specifically prepared in advance for us to do. With His help, I’m going to follow His call wherever He leads. So here’s to living in freedom and obedience…

…one two-letter word at a time. 🙂

A very serendipitously timed text message from this week.
A very serendipitous (big word!) text message from this week.
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Daddy’s Girl

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At four years old, I had found my life’s goal. I knew my calling. I wanted to be just like my Papa.

Now at that point, I had no idea what my Papa actually did, so my attempts at emulating didn’t include his career path or interactions with the outside world. Rather, I developed the classic “monkey see, monkey do” mentality, doing my utmost best to observe and imitate his every move.

For instance, my Papa shaved his face, so I wanted to shave my face. And like the good Papa he was (and still is), he gave me a fake bronze razor and unlimited (until he learned a lesson and made it limited) access to his Barbasol shaving cream. Papa made coffee every morning, so I helped him make coffee in the morning (I became the official pusher of the “on” button, which I intelligently deemed the “pretty light”). Papa read the newspaper in our orange-and-brown flowered (yay 1970’s!) easy chair, so I read the newspaper in the orange-and-brown flowered easy chair. There was just one tiny problem, though:

I couldn’t read.

Now, to the four-year-old me, that was no big deal. After a minute or two, I got bored and moved onto more exciting things… like ponies. And luckily, my illiteracy didn’t last much longer. While homeschooling the now five-year-old version of me, my saintly mother taught me to read. And after finally conquering the difficult words like “was” and “though” (who decided to make the “s” sound like a “z”? and what imbecile decided to make the “ugh” silent even though it makes up half of the word?), I could read. Granted, my skill wasn’t advanced enough to tackle the Kansas City Star quite yet, but I was well on my way.

For some reason, that memory of the newspaper and the flowered chair has stuck with me over the years. In fact, it has even become one of my more vivid childhood memories. Occasionally, I find myself pondering it. What was I thinking as I looked at that newspaper? And how did the words look before I could understand what they said? Try as I might, I couldn’t transport my mind back to that time and place. I couldn’t remember my impressions. But then, I had an epiphany.  

Jetzt muss ich ein Bisschen auf Deutsch schreiben. Und ein Bisschen mehr… und ein Bisschen mehr… Ja, das ist genug.

Chances are, you probably didn’t understand that at all. Maybe you caught a word or two (or thought you caught a word or two), but unless you copied and pasted it into an online translator (or happen to have studied German, which is highly unlikely), you were clueless. You may have known it was German, but you had no idea what it said.

*LIGHTBULB!!! That’s how English looks (with fewer capital letters) when you don’t know how to read! It’s like a foreign language! Suddenly my lifelong (minus 4 years) question had been answered. And naturally, I was super excited, or should I say, “total aufgeregt”? 😉

Now that I knew what English looked like to illiterate people, I had a new musing: What does English sound like if you can’t understand it? Fortunately, I happened to pose this question to my friend John Box who had an immediate answer. True to his super smart, full-of-random-yet-useful-knowledge form, he sent me a video of an Italian TV show episode. On this show, the actors sing and dance to an “English” song, which is actually not English at all. Instead, it’s gibberish words strung together to sound just like English. It’s bizarre. You have to watch it (first without subtitles, then with them). Anyway, after viewing the video (and sharing it with multiple people), I had my answer; I had experienced English as a non-English speaker. Can you say, “Mama Mia!”? 😉

So why am I sharing this with you? That, my friend, is a very good question. But don’t worry; I think I have at least a decently good answer. And if I don’t, feel free to whack me with a newspaper (but please let me read it when you’re done). Okay, here goes…

Our relationship with God is a lot like learning to understand or read a new language. Yeah, I know that sounds kind of weird, but hear me out. Have you ever read the Bible? If so, have you ever felt like it was just a bunch of holy gibberish full of funny names (my personal favorite: Dodo) or impossible-to-pronounce places (like ”Adramyttium”? Or have you flipped to one of the Gospels and thought, “What in the Hades is Jesus saying?” Well, if you have, you’re not alone. I have definitely been there and, to be honest, I still find myself there often. But just like my mom so kindly taught me to read, I’m not permanently lost in the land of endless “begats”. And who is this tutor? I’m so glad you asked! He’s immortal; He’s invisible; He’s none other than…

The Holy Spirit.

That’s right; this often-forgotten, easily overlooked, frequently misunderstood Third Person of the Trinity is here to help you out. In fact, Jesus even called the Holy Spirit “the Helper” when He promised His coming to the disciples. In John 14:26, Jesus tells the disciples not to worry because “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” And that’s exactly what He does… and so much more.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t just help us understand what Jesus says and how to follow Him; He empowers us to live as God’s children. He gives us the strength to overcome temptation, He corrects our course when we start to veer off track into sin, and He empowers us to live the way Christ calls us to live. And unlike a human tutor or personal trainer, He doesn’t just leave us at the end of the lesson. No, on the contrary, He lives inside of us. That’s right; if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the SPIRIT OF GOD HIMSELF lives INSIDE OF YOU (Ezekiel 36:25-27). If that doesn’t blow your mind, it should! He is constantly working in you, molding you, and transforming you more and more to look like Jesus (Romans 8:29).

But that’s not all. The Holy Spirit is a Person, not just an impersonal force that Luke Skywalker hears from Hans Solo should be with him. The Holy Spirit has emotions just like you and I do, and He cares about you. It breaks His heart when we choose not to follow what He knows is best for us. When we pick our own way, we bring Him sorrow. Not because He wants us to live boring, prudish lives without any fun, but He understands what true freedom—true life—looks like, and He desperately wants us to have it. But He doesn’t stop there. No, He helps us to achieve it! He makes the Bible come to life as He reveals its meaning to us; He opens our hearts to the things of God and shows us what to do, and He helps us live He’s our heavenly tutor, our supernatural “Hooked on Phonics”, and He lives inside us, teaching, prompting, and perfecting us. Gradually, day-by-day and in His perfect timing, He transforms us to be more and more like our heavenly Daddy… But don’t worry; you won’t have to learn to shave.  😉