Running on Fumes

sleeping ferret
A ferret in a “dead sleep.” #jealous

Steffi confession #153: I have a weakness for terribly corny jokes.

And when I say “terribly corny”, I mean that they should appear on Laffy Taffy wrappers—or they likely already have. Or they warrant a sassy response like, “3rd grade called; they want their joke back.” As a former summer camp counselor to elementary-school kids, I have collected quite a few of them over the years. Here are a few of the most memorable:

Q: What’s the most musical part of a chicken?
A: The drumstick!

Q: Why did the chicken cross the playground?
A: To get to the other slide!

And my all-time favorite:

Q: What happens when you stand in front of a bus?
A: You get tired!
Q: What happens when you stand behind a bus?
A: You get exhausted!

I’m not exaggerating when I say that, every time I tell that last joke, I crack up, regardless of whether anyone else finds it funny.

…I’m also not exaggerating when I say that right now I am absolutely exhausted.

On the one hand, it makes complete sense that I would be tired. I mean, I spent 9+ hours today at an archive, reading and taking notes on Polish primary sources. Of course my brain is sleepy after that!

But I’m afraid that I’m not simply tired from today. Because if this were only a “gosh I had a long work day” kind of tired, then a good night’s sleep and a cup of coffee tomorrow  would cure it. No, I think what I am experiencing now is a deeper, more prolonged type of weariness, the cumulative effect of many long days of working toward a very delayed gratification.

Again, this makes sense. After all, I left for Europe almost exactly a year ago today, and I hit the ground running. After another 6-week Polish class in Krakow, I started my archival research in Berlin. In the last several months, I’ve basically been on a perpetual/extended research trip, visiting archives all over Germany and now Poland. While I have taken some wonderful breaks, such as during visits from friends and family as well as some fun trips of my own, I have spent most of the last 10 months doing research and, with the Polish class, the last 12 months intensively learning in some capacity. There seems to be an inverse relationship between my energy stores and my computer’s harddrive: the more filled the latter becomes with notes and document photographs, the less capacity my brain has to handle it. Like someone standing in front of  AND behind the bus, I am wiped. I’m also really temped to buy this mug:

pigeon mug

Here I should say that I’m not trying to complain or feel sorry for myself, although that’s probably how it sounds. I know that I’ve been given incredible opportunities to both pursue a graduate degree and to conduct research in Europe. And I am immeasurably grateful for this time; I truly am. But the truth is that, as much as I enjoy being a “professional nerd”, sometimes all this studying can leave me feeling pretty tired. I guess “living the dream” doesn’t necessarily come with restful sleep.

In addition to my brain being tired, my body isn’t particularly happy with me either. Apparently sitting on one’s rear and staring at a computer screen for days on end isn’t the healthiest lifestyle choice. So to counteract my current sedentary state, I decided to train for another marathon. In theory, this was a great idea because it ensures that I am physically active at least 4-5 times a week. But in reality, most days it feels absolutely terrible. You see, when you try to run long distances after sitting for 9-10 hours each day, your body responds by getting very, very angry. Or at least mine does. No matter how hard I try to pick up the pace, my times are the slowest they’ve been in years, if not ever. I just can’t seem to kick my body into gear. Like my brain, my body no longer wants to cooperate. I guess it’s worn out too.

On top of this mental and physical weariness, I am also spiritually spent. Starting at the beginning of June, I decided to pick a topic each morning and then pray about it throughout the day. And then almost on cue, the world decided to melt down. Now I have a hard time picking just one item for each day; there are way too many injustices and tragedies to go around. And it seems that every time I check the news, another one hits the headlines. My heart hurts for the world around me, as pain and suffering seem to multiply by the second. And though the Bible calls us to “mourn with those who mourn”, this too can be draining.

Fortunately, there is at least a temporary end in sight. After finishing up the Polish portion of my research on Friday, I’ll leave for a much-needed two-week vacation. I’m hoping that this break will rejuvenate me and put some of the “pep back in my step”, metaphorically and literally (I’d love to start clocking some decent running times again.) But as much as I am looking forward to it, I also recognize that my current weariness is likely not a one-time-only thing. Because although I won’t necessarily spend almost an entire year doing research by myself in foreign countries, I will inevitably end up in tedious and tiring circumstances again for extended periods of time. From what I can tell, that’s kind of how life goes. So the question remains: what in the world can I do about it?

I don’t have any magic answers. (And if I’m entirely honest, my first response is to sleep and sleep and sleep.) But even in the midst of the weariness, I keep coming back to these two things: to keep going and to keep coming.

I already discussed the first one in a post a few months back, so I’ll be brief about it here. As Woody Allen said, 80% of life is just showing up, or in this case, keeping going. For me, that means dragging myself out of bed and to the archive for the umpteenth day in a row, if for no other reason than that’s the task before me for the day, and I want to be faithful where I am.

And the second one: keep coming. In one of my all-time favorite verses, Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” While I don’t necessarily feel magically refreshed by spending time in prayer or God’s Word, I know that Jesus promises to give me His rest if I come to Him. And so, I do my best to just keep coming, day after day after day, trusting that He is faithfully filling me up even if I don’t always feel it.

Alright, that’s enough for tonight. It’s time for this sleepy grad student to head to bed.

Hey, speaking of bedtime, have you heard about the new corduroy pillows? They’re making headlines. 😉



The Fairest Fowl

I have a lot of respect for chickens.

Yes, I know that probably sounds strange, but I felt the need to put that out there once and for all. The way I see it, chickens get the raw end of the deal far too often. Whether they’re being imitated mockingly in a ridiculous dance (especially humiliating when performed by elementary school children at roller skating parties) or being referenced when someone is too scared to do something (i.e. “chickens out”), this particular bird is the victim of much unnecessary and undeserved abuse. Do you ever see people making fun of the platypus? No! But even Wikipedia calls the platypus a “bizarre” creature. Seriously, who ever heard of an “egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal”? Now that’s something to laugh about! But who gets all the “fowl” jokes? The chicken.  Pardon me while I flap my wings in contempt.

Fortunately, in my household at least, chickens receive the respect they deserve. For the last several years, my mom has had and acted upon her “chicken fetish.” Our kitchen is outfitted with chicken rugs, decorative chicken plates, and an assortment of porcelain and wooden chickens. We even have a few chicken cutting boards! (Which, yes, is a wee bit ironic). Most of these have been purchased at garage sales… and some of it has since been sold at garage sales. Sometimes I wish my mother would purchase some nicer chicken stuff, but, alas, no nice chicken-decor store exists. (Fortunately, though, if you prefer horses, there’s a down-home, rootin-tootin’ online country store that may tickle your fancy. Check it out here: Needless to say, my family has a healthy appreciation for this fine feathered friend.

K-Seven (the Kanakuk Kamp where I work) also has a deep-seated love for chickens. A few years ago, the Kamp’s director Keith Chancey decided that a petting zoo would make the perfect addition to K-Seven. Ever since then, our kamp has become home to ducks, goats (even a fainting goat! But it was defective and only fainted twice. And I missed it both times.), and, of course, chickens. I should also note that our zoo included a rooster the first summer. Which may have been one of the worst ideas EVER. Each morning around 3 a.m., the rooster dreamt that the sun was rising… and began to cockadoodledoo nonstop for the next 4 hours. And if that weren’t bad enough, the petting zoo just happened to be located behind girls’ kamp, specifically behind the youngest two teepees. IT. WAS. AWFUL. Fortunately, though, they soon solved the problem—by sending the rooster to a different kamp. I couldn’t have been happier. If the rooster had stayed, I might have commandeered a bow and arrow from the archery closet…. Enough said.

In the first few years of the zoo, we had silky chickens, which just might be some of the funniest animals ever. First of all, they look ridiculous, kind of like a wet Jack Russel terrier badly in need of a haircut. And then they make the silliest noise, which sounds like a cross between a squawk and a hiccup. As if that weren’t enough, they can’t fly very well, so they resort to an awkward hop-and-flap motion. Basically, they are hilarious. I’ve spent a lot of quality time chasing and catching them. All in a day’s work.

But this summer, unfortunately, we didn’t get any silky chickens. Apparently, they were sold out by the time our reps made it to the store. So we got regular chickens instead. Eight of them. At first, they lived in the zoo, hanging out in the miniature coop that we built for them. But soon they discovered the world beyond their wired walls. And after that, there was no coming back. Even after the guys made the wall five feet higher, there was no stopping the chickens. Yes, they would occasionally roost there at night (usually perched atop ten-foot wall), but during the day they did as they pleased, roaming through the girls’ bathroom, wandering into the showers, getting stuck in the toilets (My little sister Rascal fished one out), pouncing on grasshoppers, wreaking havoc in the flower beds… These chickens were the epitome of “free range.” By the end of the summer, we didn’t even bother taking them back to their pen. Instead, I would greet them with a “Good morning, chicken” or a “Good evening, chicken” and go along my way. The only exception was on the Fourth of July when I kidnapped a chicken for the parade. Much to the delight of the spectators (and to the chagrin of my right bicep), I carried that chicken for the entire hour-long parade. Francesca, as I named her, was incredibly well behaved, only squawking occasionally and smiling for the photos. She even let me paint her nails a lovely shade of pink, so I could identify her later. But other than that, my relationship with the chickens was one of a coexistent, mutual respect.

So back to my original statement. Why do I hold chickens in such high regard? Well, the answer is simple: You can always count on them. That’s right; chickens are among the most dependable critters I know. Want to hear more? Well, cross to the other side of the road, and I’ll tell you about it.

You see, chickens lay their eggs every single day. Rain or shine. Snow or sweat. They always come through. They are consistent and predictable. Nothing fazes them, and nothing—not even another chicken claiming their nest—will get in their way.

I’m about to say something odd, so before you run around as if your head was cut off, hear me out: I think we should try to be more like chickens.

Here’s what I mean. How often do you spend time with Jesus? If you’re anything like me, your answer is probably “not as often as I’d like to.” In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s so easy to forget. It’s so easy to lose sight of the only One who matters. We get distracted with meetings, interviews, homework, appointments—the list goes on and on. Every day, Jesus waits for us with open arms, but all too often, busyness grabs us by the wrist and yanks us away. But it doesn’t have to be like this. If we can change our habits, if we can refocus our eyes on Jesus, this can change. And that’s where chickens can help.

Daily. That’s the trick. Chickens lay their eggs daily. We need to spend time with Jesus daily. It may seem tricky; it may be challenging at first. But it’s completely worth it.

So what are you waiting for? Crack open your Bible and see for yourself. You may even figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg. 😉