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.

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. 🙂