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.

Loyal & True

“Don’t do it, Steffi. Ahh, don’t do it…”

But it was too late. The Alma Mater started and, as if on cue, tears began streaming down my cheeks. With my diploma case in one hand, I slipped my arm around my friend Natalie and swayed alongside my fellow new alumni. As quickly as my college career had begun, it was over. This chapter of my life was officially complete.

I learned a lot in college. For instance, don’t take a Calc II class just “for the fun of it”… especially on MWF at 7:30 in the morning. Llamas will spit if you stand too close. Climbing a fire escape at 2 a.m. is rarely a good idea. Always, always, always carry your dorm room key, because the one time you don’t bring it, your roommate will lock you out… especially if it’s raining. Sometimes ice cream breaks are more important than studying. A sturdy umbrella is a good investment. Don’t wait until the week of a deadline to ask for a letter of recommendation. Make sure you have your football ticket before you walk to the stadium. Don’t put flannel pajamas in the dryer. And some of the best memories happen by accident.

I could go on and on and on about all the goofy and serious little lessons I learned in college. I could probably write a book of them (hmmm… that’s an idea. Maybe I will). But in this blog entry, I think I’ll focus on the most important lesson I learned in college.

God is good. Always.

Looking back over my college career, I can’t help but be amazed by just how good He really is. For instance, He brought me to OSU in the first place. My senior year of high school, I applied to eight universities around the country, and OSU was not one of them. But at the end of March, my top choice schools were out of the picture, and suddenly I had no prospects. Until my mom stumbled upon OSU, that is. I finished my online application, five minutes later hopped in the minivan, and five hours later arrived in Stillwater, Oklahoma. As soon as I set foot on OSU’s campus, I knew I was home. This was exactly where I needed to be. Now in hindsight, I can’t imagine myself anywhere else, and I thank God every day that He brought me to Oklahoma State University.

That August, I went through Recruitment or “Rush.” I knew nothing about any of the sororities, and I had no idea what to expect. All week long, I prayed that God would give me wisdom. As I trudged from chapter to chapter, positively dripping with sweat (Why does Recruitment always have to be the hottest week of the year?! Not cool. Literally.), I asked Him to show me where He wanted me. And as the week went on, one house stuck out in my mind: Kappa Delta. Somehow I knew that Kaydee was the house for me. Obviously, being a Kaydee definitely had its ups and downs. But now looking back, I know beyond all shadow of doubt that God brought me to this house, to these girls, and I am so thankful for it.

Now that I was a college student and a sorority girl, it was time to find my niche. Where should I invest my time and energy? A year earlier, my dad had taken me to a movie screening at our friend’s church (“Dragged” would actually be a more accurate word. I really didn’t want to go, but he made me. haha). This film was produced by the Christian singer/songwriter Sara Groves and recounted her journey to Rwanda with an organization called the “International Justice Mission” or IJM. This video was my first exposure to global injustice and to IJM’s work, and it stayed in the back of my mind for the next year. I knew I wanted to get involved with IJM, but I wasn’t sure how. Unfortunately, though, OSU didn’t have an IJM campus chapter. I could start one, I supposed, but I was already busy with so many things—schoolwork, sorority stuff, other organizations—that I wasn’t sure if I had time or it would be the right thing for me to do. Then my advisor gave me a nugget of advice: The only difference between dreamers and ambitious people is action. In other words, don’t just sit around waiting for something to happen; just do it. So I did. To make a long story short, God provided for and blessed our IJM group in unbelievable ways. Now, three years later the OSU IJM chapter is thriving and is excited to continue raising awareness about injustice and helping those who are suffering. To date, we have raised around $4,000 to benefit IJM’s work around the world. I have been so incredibly blessed to work with such amazing and passionate people. They constantly inspire me, and I am so grateful to call them my friends.

And then I went to Austria. Ahhh, wonderful Austria. The land where the hills are alive with the sound of music, where Milka chocolate comes in half a million flavors, and people wear lederhosen to go grocery shopping. My exchange semester in Graz, Austria, was the greatest adventure of my life thus far. Yet again, God proved His faithfulness. He blessed me with incredible friends from all over the world, with the opportunity to travel around Europe, and most importantly to grow closer to Him. While in Austria, I learned to trust God like I never had before. I discovered that my identity rests in Him alone, and that He holds my life in His hands. Through the friendships I formed and the conversations and experiences I was able to have, I could see Him working in my life, shaping it, guiding me, and most of all using me. It was both amazing and life-changing, and I am so grateful for it. And even though I still miss my friends like crazy, I am so thankful that God chose to intersect our lives for those six wonderful months, and I have faith that He will cross our paths again. Love you all.  (Follow this link if you’d like to read more about my experiences in Austria).

Last but not least came my senior year at OSU. I learned that reverse culture shock stinks, but time heals all wounds; the best friendships often come by surprise, and the road to your dreams may contain potholes and detours. But God always knows best. His plan may not always match ours, but in the end, He works things out beautifully. As King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He also set eternity in the hearts of men, but they cannot fathom what He has done from beginning to end.” In short, God is good. All the time.

Last Saturday marked the end of this book in the series of my life. As I swayed during the Alma Mater, trying in vain to blink back my tears, my mind flipped through the figurative pages of my “college book.” And though there were painful moments mixed in with the good, though sometimes the tears seemed to douse out the laughter, and though I didn’t always understand why things happened as they did, the story was beautiful–just as God had promised. In the midst of my tears, I felt a smile overflow from my soul onto my face. My God is “loyal and true.” And though this part of my life has ended, my adventure with Him is only just beginning.