(Don’t) Forget It

dorymeme
Oh, how well I can identify with this. Source: https://sallyinthehaven.net/tag/forgetfulness/

For me, the most basic things are often the hardest to remember.

For instance, when I was in fifth grade, we were making our annual Thanksgiving trek to visit my mom’s side of the family in St. Louis. We were about 45 minutes into the drive when I looked down and realized that I’d managed to forget my shoes. I had a pair of Mary Janes for church, but these would be woefully inadequate for playing in the woods by my grandparents’ house. And so, we turned around and went back to Kansas City, so I wouldn’t have to go barefoot. To this day whenever we are leaving on a family road trip, everyone not-so-surreptitiously looks at my feet to make sure I’m wearing shoes.

Another classic moment of forgetfulness happened yesterday afternoon. Since I was getting ready to leave for the summer, I spent a few minutes cleaning out my car. After all, no one wants to return after 2.5 months to a messy vehicle. I took out all the trash, organized the glove compartment, and even made a daring peek under the seats where I found some unused post-it notes. Because I helped some friends move last weekend, my back seats were still down. So I reconfigured the back seat and trunk before returning to my front-seat tidying. But in my trash-removing zeal, I forgot to close the back door. Until, of course, about 20 minutes after a thunderstorm. Oops.

As if these moments of spaciness weren’t bad enough, I also have a terrible memory for details. As a historian, this is especially  frustrating. When I’m teaching, I make up for this by bringing really detailed notes. So if I can’t remember a name or a date, at least I know where I to find it. But this poor recall gets very frustrating, especially when I’m trying to tell a historical story without my cheat sheet. For instance, I cannot even count the number of times I tried to tell the story of my favorite 20th-century Hungarian conman Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln only to say something like, “So there was this guy… and he pretended to be someone he wasn’t… and it was really crazy!” Forget being a steel trap; my mind is more like a strip of lint-covered Scotch tape. Very little sticks to it.

Harmless though this forgetfulness can be in everyday situations like tennis shoes and Hungarian conmen, it has a darker side when it comes to my faith. Even though I have been consistently reading my Bible for years, and even though I’ve heard literally hundreds of sermons about God’s love, I still have a hard time remembering it. For some reason, this truth bounces off my lint-covered Scotch-tape heart. No matter how hard I try, information about God’s love and care for me tends not to stick.

Since I’m a historian, you think I’d be extra skilled at remembering past examples of God’s goodness. In theory, I should be able to recall them at the drop of a hat, and stories of His faithfulness should continually be at the tip of my tongue. And while this is sometimes the case, and I have moments of being overwhelmed by God’s goodness, provision, and love, these reflections are far rarer than I care to admit. More often, stumble forward in nonchalant forgetfulness, simply wandering from one thing to the next. When life is going well, this forgetfulness doesn’t seem like a problem. Yes, it would be better to remember, but it doesn’t feel urgent. But when life gets tough, when I am afraid of the future or feel ashamed about the past, this forgetfulness can become catastrophic. In these moments of difficulty, when I am blindsided by this destructive form of “soul amnesia”, I forget. I forget God and His goodness. I forget that He has been with me in the past. I forget all about His love. Rather than treading water or reaching to the side of the pool for help, I flail and thrash and start to sink. It’s awful. But what can I possibly do about it?

The answer is fairly simple. In the words of the great philosopher Mufasa, “Remember who you are.” Especially in moments of difficulty, God calls us to remember who we are–and Whose we are. He helps us by using other people, who encourage us and speak truth to us. He speaks to us through His Holy Spirit, who lives inside us and who helps us “call to mind everything [Jesus] taught” us. And He does this through His Word. But the truths don’t magically jump off the page and into our brains; there is no passive spiritual osmosis. Rather, we must be diligent to read it, to spend time daily soaking it in, and sitting with its Truth. In doing so, we are reminded of our identity as God’s children, and we learn that our lives truly are “hidden with Christ in God.”

As I have been struggling lately to grasp and hold onto the reality of God’s love, the movie Fifty First Dates keeps coming to mind. In this film, Drew Barrymore’s character Lucy suffers from short-term memory loss. When she wakes up each morning, she has completely forgotten everything from the day before. Despite this obvious challenge, Adam Sandler’s character Henry falls in love with her, and (spoiler alert!) the two eventually get married and have a family. But Lucy’s memory problem doesn’t magically go away. So what is the solution? Henry makes a short video about their relationship and their family, and Lucy watches this every morning when she wakes up. Before she begins each day, she is reminded of who she is and where she belongs.

I think the same must be true for us. If we are going to flourish in Christ–i.e., if we want to live consciously in light of God’s love and our place in His family–then we have to start each day by letting Him remind us of who we are. This is absolutely essential to an abundant life in Christ. No, reading the Bible won’t magically make all of your worries, fears, and problems go away. But it will remind you of the God who cares for you in the midst of these things. And this awareness of God’s love, my friend, is unbelievably important.

Alright, that’s enough for today. I have a flight to catch. I should probably make sure that I packed my shoes…

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Going to Pot(tery)

bowls

I’ve done a lot of dumb things in my time, and I’ll be the first to admit that my life feels like a long series of blonde moments. And while this inherent blondeness permeates most all areas of my life, it manifests itself most acutely while I am traveling.

The first problem is my poor sense of direction. Although this had been a “known issue” for my entire life, my parents first recognized its extent during my senior year of high school. That winter I was started taking an acting class at a theater downtown. I had taken this route dozens of times in the past, but this winter was my first time driving there on my own. After the class finished at 10 p.m., I drove myself home… until I found myself at a Waffle House in the middle of nowhere. Trying to keep my composure, I called my mom, and together (with the help of Google Maps) we pieced together where I was and the route I needed to take. For 18th birthday a couple weeks later, I received a Garmin GPS with my parents’ encouraging explanation: “so you don’t die.” Sweet.

Other times, logistical problems have been my downfall. For instance, during my semester in Austria, I planned to meet a friend in Ireland over Easter break. To do this, I needed to take a train from Graz to Vienna and then another train to Bratislava, where I would catch a flight to Dublin. All should have gone perfectly except for one tiny detail: I forgot to check where the airport was in relation to the train station. Turns out that, like most airports, Bratislava one was a good ways out of town. After a very expensive taxi ride, I did catch my flight, but I left my some of my pride at the Bratislava train station.

And sometimes I fall victim to plain, old-fashioned mix-ups. One of the most memorable happened over Thanksgiving weekend my senior year of college. The Oklahoma State-Oklahoma “Bedlam” football match-up was in Stillwater that year, so my sisters and I decided to cut our break short in order to cheer on our cowboys. Here I should note that the trip to Stillwater is ridiculously simple. It takes exactly 5 hours door-to-door with 2 left turns: one to get on I-35 heading south from Kansas City and one to get on Highway 51 heading into Stillwater. Back when I chose to attend OSU (not long after my accidental Waffle House experience), my parents exclaimed with relief, “The drive is so simple, not even you can mess it up!” And I hadn’t messed it up—until that Saturday. About halfway through our trip, we pulled off for a bathroom break at a rest stop. In this section of the Interstate, the only rest areas are McDonalds/gas station complexes located between the north- and south-bound highways. When we pulled off, the parking lot on the south-bound side was full (apparently everyone was going to Bedlam), so I drove around to the other side. After we’d taken care of business, we got back on the highway and continued our trip… and then we started seeing signs for Wichita again. Yep, you guessed it; I got straight back on the highway, having forgotten that I’d driven around to the other side. Navigational Universe: 1; Steffi: 0.

These are just a few select examples; the actual list goes on and on. So it’s safe to conclude that, when it comes to travel, I’m not exactly the sharpest bulb in the box or the brightest knife in the drawer. But although these above examples are each unfortunate, one of the most embarrassing, most frustrating, and most discouraging of my failed travel experiences happened two weeks ago. Let me explain.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Poland. But you probably don’t know that I am mildly obsessed with Polish pottery. It’s colorful and bright, every piece is handmade, and it’s incredibly inexpensive—what’s not to love?! But although I love Polish pottery, I don’t own much of it. So I decided to change that, by buying some pottery to take back to the States when I’m there for wedding in May. The best place to purchase this pottery is in an itty-bitty town called Bolesławiec, where the factories—and, more importantly, the factory outlets—are located. The easiest way to reach this town is by car, but since I have a fear of driving on the German Autobahn, I decided to go via public transit. The only way to do this was as follows: take a 6 a.m. bus from Berlin to Görlitz (on the German-Polish border) and then 2 trains from Görlitz to Bolesławiec; reverse said route to reach Berlin again at 12:30 a.m. When I checked my schedule, the best and perhaps the only time for this crazy all-day shopping safari was Saturday April 16th. And so I booked my tickets, put my soon-to-be-filled carryon suitcase by the door, set my alarm for 4:47 a.m. and went to bed.

The morning came far too quickly, but I still managed to get to the Berlin Südkreuz station a whole 15 minutes before my scheduled departure. And then I waited…. and waited… and waited. No bus came, and since the one bus in the lot didn’t have my destination listed, I assumed it wasn’t mine. Plus, I expected the bus to be coming from the main station, as was the case for my trip to Groβ Särchen (aka “hotdog town”) a few weeks before. And so I didn’t think anything of it… until it pulled away and no other buses came. With a sinking feeling in my stomach and a rising panic in my chest, I called the 24/7 bus service line, and—you guessed it—that non-labeled bus was mine. I had perfectly organized my trip, woke up well before dawn, and shivered for 15 minutes only to stand stupidly on the sidewalk and watch as my bus drove away. Epic. Fail.

But I wasn’t just upset; I was livid. How could I have been so stupid? Was my brain not screwed on straight? Why didn’t I think to just ask the bus driver? Why didn’t the bus driver ask me if I was one of his passengers? (after all, I clearly fit the description of ‘female passenger with hand luggage’ that was surely on his checklist). What the heck was wrong with me? My self-loathing soon mixed with tears, as the early-morning state of sleep deprivation began to take its toll. Angry, frustrated, and embarrassed, I took my still-empty carryon home and went back to bed.

A two-hour nap and some coffee later, I sat down to journal through what had happened. I’d clearly made a mistake—and a pretty laughable one, at that—but why did I react so strongly? And why, of all the emotions that I felt (including anger, frustration, and sadness) did shame and embarrassment rank toward the top? After all, no one besides my mom and a select few friends even knew about my day trip to Poland. Shame and embarrassment stem from the judgment, expected or real, of others. So if no one besides my closest friends and my mom knew I messed up—and their response would be to give me a virtual transatlantic hug—why did I feel so embarrassed and ashamed?

I puzzled over this question for several minutes, between sips of much-needed coffee. And as so often happens when I prayerfully journal, I soon arrived at an answer: I had made an idol of my own competence. Or put differently, I had made “not making really dumb mistakes” central to my worth and identity.

You see, as much as I make self-deprecating jokes and share my failures and misadventures on this blog, deep down I long to have it all together. Yes, I enjoy making people laugh with my often-unfortunate exploits, but if I’m honest, I’d much rather do things right the first time and not make dumb mistakes. And while I think it’s normal to want that—after all, who wants to be a basket case all the time?—at some point I took it too far. Somewhere along the way, I crossed over from a normal/good desire to be on top of things into making it my identity. And when you place your identity in anything finite, when you start to see yourself through any earthly lens, it will inevitably shatter.

But fortunately for me, and for all of us, the story doesn’t have to end there. As soon as I recognized my sin, God was quick to remind me of His grace: Christ died for me. And because of that, I am immeasurably valuable, incredibly treasured, and unbelievably loved. God’s love for me and what Christ did for me—these are what define me. These make up the core of my identity. Yes, I may try to find my worth in other things, be it academics, accolades, or successfully catching a 6 a.m. bus. But even as I chase after these other sources of worth, God always reins me back in, gently shattering my mirror of false identity and lifting my gaze back to the Cross, where it belongs.

Alright, that’s enough for today. I think I’ll spend the evening planning another trip… 😉

boleslawiec
Yes, I did end up making it to Boleslawiec a couple days later. The locals were clearly happy to see me. 

 

A Bit “Wordy”

Words are spiffy.

Yes, I know it sounds a bit nerdy (okay, really nerdy), but I love words. A lot. Like, they make me super happy. I become almost bizarrely excited when I learn a new word. I become even more bizarrely excited when I manage to use that new word correctly in a sentence. Although I enjoy many different words, some of them hold very special places in my heart for various reasons.

Some words are awesome because they are really fun to say. “Onomatopoeia” is the perfect example. For those of you who are a bit removed from your freshman year English class, onomatopoeia (pronounced “on-uh-mat-uh-pee-uh”) is defined as “the formation of a word, as cuckoo  or boom,  by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent.” In my opinion, though, onomatopoeia is the best example of onomatopoeia. No, there is no specific action or thing that sounds like this word, but if there were, it would be the coolest thing ever. So I think onomatopoeia should be granted honorary onomatopoeia status.

Others words are cool because of how they are spelled. My current favorite is “awkward”. A “k” surrounded by two “w’s”—don’t you imagine that the “k” feels cramped and out of place? Like he accidentally showed up at the “w” party that he wasn’t invited to and the “w’s” just kind of stare at him like he’s a moron. Or maybe the “k” is on a trans-Atlantic flight, and he got stuck sitting between two oversized letters that are taking his elbow room. I bet he feels awkward. See? The spelling perfectly matches the word. I love it.

Still other words are nifty because of their ability to accurately express their meaning. One of my favorite examples, though, doesn’t come from English. In German, the word for “hug” is “Umarmung” (pronounced “oo-mar-moong”). It literally translates to “around-arming.” And that’s exactly what hugs are! How fun would it be if your friend were to say, “Has it been a rough day? You look like you could use an around-arming.” I think it could catch on. 🙂

Unfortunately, although I definitely have an affinity for words (isn’t “affinity” a cool word, by the way? I thought it deserved a shout out), I don’t always use them correctly. In English class my sophomore year of high school, I wrote an essay about one of my all-time favorite books (the abridged version, at least) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I was trying to say how the poor people in France were destitute and had been deprived of the things they needed to survive. So I expressed this idea by calling them “depraved,” which actually means that they were morally corrupt. Although that might have been the case (as the Thenardier family in the story demonstrates), my teacher responded with a big red question mark. Oops.  Recently, I discovered the word “proverbial”, and I now try to use it on a daily basis, but I’m honestly not sure if I use it correctly. But as Abraham Lincoln proverbially said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” A few weeks ago, I realized that stigma and astigmatism are not synonyms. Thus, there cannot be an “astigmatism” associated with being in a sorority. Eye problems are not endemic to Greek life. Ha ha.

My love for words also surfaces in my relationship with God. For example, I enjoy mulling over and pondering the various names of God. Or when I discovered the Greek word Splagchnizomaito, it completely changes my perception of compassion. Overall, the more I learn about the original languages of the Bible and the shades of meaning in the words, the more I am blown away and left completely and utterly in awe of God and who He is.

There is, however, one exception.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be blasphemous, and I don’t want to be excommunicated or burned at the stake as a heretic. But I think there’s one particular instance in the Bible where the word choice wasn’t quite, well, up to par. And unfortunately, this deficient phrase is one of the most common in all of Christianity.

The Good News.

Yes, this the phrase that we use as synonymous with “the Gospel.” The word “Gospel” in the context of Christianity refers to the truth that Jesus Christ—the Son of God and God Himself—came down from heaven, lived a sinless life, and at the age of thirty-three chose to endure the most painful, excruciating, humiliating death on a cross as a replacement for our punishment. In essence, He died so that we could live. But more than that, He rose from the dead three days later, conquering the Devil and Hell and death itself once and for all. He loved us so much that He gave up everything, so we could belong to Him. And we call that “good news”?! Good news? That’s the understatement of eternity! What we really should say is “unbelievable news,” “incredible news,” “earth-shattering news,” or “news so amazing that it deserves to be shouted from the rooftops and proclaimed in every single aspect of our lives.” This isn’t just good news; it’s the news that has the power to change everything. It’s the only news that’s worth your life, your everything. No, “good” doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Today is Easter, which is the holiday when we celebrate Jesus’ victory on our behalf. What better day to pause and ponder what this (grossly understated) Good News actually means.

Yes, I know I just called it the “Good News.” Okay, so maybe “good” isn’t such a terrible description after all. It’s on the right track; it just doesn’t go quite far enough. It’s not just the “Good News;” it’s the BEST NEWS. Nothing, not even onomatopoeia or a really great Umarmung, can compete with that. 🙂