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. 😉



Sleepless (Not) In Seattle

The other night, I couldn’t fall asleep.

This wasn’t a new problem for me, by any means. Insomnia and I go way back. We’re old friends… or old enemies. Or old enemies that have known each other for so long that they kind of start to become friends, or at least have a mutual agreement of détente. Like the USA and USSR, albeit it on a much smaller (and less potentially explosive) scale.

Anyway, I couldn’t sleep. And to make things worse, I knew exactly what I needed to do to fall asleep, but I didn’t want to do it.

Kind of like when you wake up in the middle of the night and you realize that you need to use the restroom. Nature is calling, and you need to answer. (Nature doesn’t leave very nice voicemails). Your body has kindly given you advance notice by waking you up, and now it’s your turn. And you know, you know you need to get up and walk the ten steps to the toilet, but your bed is just too comfortable, and the restroom is just too far. So you fight it and fight it until finally (hopefully!) you give in and hustle to the toilet.

Well, a couple nights ago, I found myself in a similar-ish situation. But instead of waking up in the middle of the night, I couldn’t fall asleep. Why not? Because my nose was stuffed up, and my nasal spray wasn’t in reach. Phooey.

For most of my life, this wouldn’t have been a problem because, for most of my life, I couldn’t breathe through my nose at all. But having been spoiled by almost three years of vacant nasal passages, I couldn’t overcome my stuffy sinuses. Rolling over, I blindly reached for a tissue and blew, but to no avail. My inner nose was swollen, and a simple Kleenex wouldn’t do the trick. What I needed was my prescription steroid nasal spray.

Normally, this would have been easy to solve because, normally, the nasal spray lives in a drawer in my nightstand right by my bed. But this was no “normal” night. This was the night after I moved across the country. And my nasal spray was tucked neatly, nicely, and very inconveniently in a box in a closet outside my room.


Now, I’m not usually a lazy person. Generally speaking, I will gladly get up and do things for myself. Sure, there was that time in 2004 when I put Matthew 10:42 above the water dispenser on our refrigerator, so I could ask my family members to bring me water while I sat on the couch… But that was forever ago! (Note: The post-it is still there. A bit wrinkled, but still there.) All that to say, on a typical day I’m not lazy.

But this was not a typical day. It wasn’t even the day at all. No, on this night I was so tired and so out of it, that  I had zero motivation to fix my sinus trouble. The closet was too far away, I was too sleepy, and it just didn’t seem worth it.

11:52 p.m.…. Still awake.

11:57 p.m. …. Not sleeping.

12:01 a.m.…. Lots of well-meaning sheep, but no sleep.

12:01 and 30 seconds… Groan. Thud. I finally shuffled to the door, rummaged through the box and found my much-needed nasal spray. Two squirts in each nostril later, I was fast asleep. Zzzzzzzzzzzz…..

(Pause for dramatic effect.)

So what was the point of that? Great question. I can almost hear you now: “Umm, Steffi, that was, uh, interesting. But why did you share it?”

Well, I am so glad you asked. You see, as I was lying there, languishing in my sleepless state, I felt that feeling. The one that makes me inhale through my teeth, inwardly groan, and then exhale, “Oops.” The feeling known as conviction. And here it is.

We treat our relationship with God like I treated my nasal spray.

We go along our merry way, leaving it tucked in the closet, out of sight and out of mind, until something goes wrong. And even then, we loiter, complain and go groaning to the closet, where we pull it out, use it to “fix” the problem, and then put it back away.

But that’s not right—for nasal spray or God.

You see, the Lord has the solution—IS the solution—to all our problems, just like the nasal spray was the solution to my insomnia. He does want us to seek Him out, ask His help, and watch Him answer. But He is NOT a genie waiting in a lamp to grant our wishes. On the contrary, He is the God of the universe and, if Jesus is your Savior, He is also the Lord of your life. Therefore, putting Him in a box and leaving Him in your closet until you “need” Him is not only silly; it’s sacrilegious. If we truly believe He is Who He says He is, then we need to start treating Him like it. With reverent fear, humble worship, heartfelt love—and a committed, devoted, and daily relationship with Him.

When I first got my nasal spray prescription, the doctor explained to me how it worked. She said, “Steffi, this spray isn’t going to be a quick fix. Yes, it will work immediately, but in order for it to have its full effect, you have to use it every day.” Having used this spray for the past almost three years, I know she’s right.  When I use it every day, my breathing is better. And having followed Jesus for longer than that, I know that the same principle holds true with Him. When we meet with God daily, when we wake up early to spend time with Him, when we are disciplined in studying His Word, and when we seek to make Him the focal point of all we do every day, our relationship with Him has its full effect. Like the medicine, He starts to change us from the inside out—and He uses us to change the world. But it all has to start with Him.

Every day.

… even after nights when you can’t sleep. 😉