Catching Sunsets

Kansas Sunset :)
Kansas Sunset 🙂

98% of the time, I love living in Georgia. Autumn lasts for months, and is absolutely gorgeous. Spring is beautiful, and all the plants are covered with pink flowers (a color which I don’t claim to love, but apparently I do: my backpack, water bottle, and cell phone cover are all pink. When I wear my one pair of pink pants, I become hopelessly monochromatic. So much for my “professional” image.) Winter is quite mild… although the very mention of “snow” can shut the city down, as this past January and February proved. (I heard there were 800 car accidents, 2000 abandoned vehicles, and at least one baby born on the highway. We even got featured on SNL’s Weekend Update. Welcome to the South.) And in my last two years here, I’ve found the people to be incredibly friendly. It would seem that the phrase “Southern hospitality” exists for a reason.

That being said, Georgia has a few quirks that, although I’m learning to tolerate, I don’t particularly love.

  • The traffic. It’s awful. Atlanta has the worst traffic of any city I’ve ever seen. Depending on what time you leave, a drive across town could take you 15 minutes or days. Okay, more like an hour and a half. But that’s still a really, really long time. On the upshot, though, living here has made me significantly more punctual. If I want to be even remotely close to “on time”, I need to build in a 20- or 30-minute buffer for Atlanta’s roadways. And public transit isn’t much better: while there are a few trains through town, most of the city is only accessible by bus. And buses, as you know, must drive on roads… where there is traffic.
  • The humidity. Sometimes it’s so bad that, after going for a run, I look like I’ve been swimming. I gave up straightening my hair because by the time I walk the half-mile to the bus stop, it’s already wavy again. And although summer is obviously the worst season for humidity, it lasts all year long. So even though the winter temperature only gets down to, say, 35 or 40 degrees, the moisture in the air makes it feel significantly colder. Forget “wind chill”; Atlanta has a “humidity chill.” Brrrr!
  • The lack of sky, or rather, the inability to see it. In case you’ve never been to Georgia, it’s basically like living in a jungle with pine trees. They are HUGE!!! I’m not kidding. Most of them are between 90 and 110 feet tall! And while that’s great if you’re looking for shade to escape from the humidity-filled heat, it’s less awesome if want to see the sky. And as a Kansas girl, I really, really like to see the sky. Aside from the traffic, that was my biggest adjustment when I moved to Atlanta: from having tons of wide open space above me to experiencing tree-induced claustrophobia.

The worst part about this isn’t the phobia, though. It’s missing the sunsets. You see, I’m a sucker for sunsets. If I had to make a list of my ten favorite things, sunsets would be toward, if not at, the very top. When I was an undergrad at Oklahoma State, sometimes I would drive to the end of a street that faced west (and, incidentally, intersected with a road called “Western”) just to watch the sun go down. I call this “catching sunsets.” When I worked at Kanakuk Kamps, I would occasionally sneak away to the top of a waterslide, so I could watch the sun go down over Table Rock Lake. When I visited Kamp this summer, I went down to the waterfront and caught one of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen.

K-Seven Sunset :)
K-Seven Sunset 🙂

But alas, since moving to Georgia, I’ve only caught a handful of noteworthy sunsets, and these were mainly when I was weaving my way through traffic on the highway—not exactly an ideal place to stop and enjoy them. Bummer. There has been one exception, though. And if you keep reading, I’ll tell you about it.

Last Wednesday, I was driving to my weekly Bible study meeting. The day, like most of them lately, had been pretty rough. I’d spent another nine hours cooped up in the library, reading for my comprehensive (ie awful) exams in November. And as usual lately, I was in a rather terrible mood. Studying all day can have that effect. Anyway, as I was driving along, I happened to look up at the sky, and the top of an obnoxiously tall pine tree caught my eye. It was glowing—truly glowing—an incandescent shade of orange and yellow. “Hmm,” I thought, “that’s pretty. The trees don’t normally glow like that.” I kept driving, winding my way around the traffic, down a hill, and through a neighborhood, until I emerged at the roundabout right by campus. And that’s when I saw it—one of the most stunning, vibrant, and gorgeous sunsets of my life. If I hadn’t been driving, I would have stared at it for a really long time, or at least taken a picture. But even that brief, few-seconds glimpse was enough to leave a huge impression. It was absolutely spectacular.

After exiting the roundabout a few moments later, I caught a glimpse of another glowing-topped tree and a thought popped into my mind: the sunsets are always there. Even the trees are obscuring my view and I can’t see them, they are still there. And that’s when it hit me: God’s love is like the sunsets.

My life has a lot of trees right now: the 400+ books I need to know for my exams (let alone the pressure of passing those tests!), grants to apply for, papers to write, and so many things to do. And in the midst of the pressures of being a grad student, it’s easy to get worn out and discouraged. When life is difficult and demands are high, it’s easy to lose sight of God and His goodness, just like when trees block out the sunsets. It’s in times like these that I need to trust that He is with me, that His love is constant, and His grace is sufficient. This can be really challenging, especially when my sunset-glimpses seem so few and far between. But I suppose that this is point of faith: believing even when—especially when—we cannot see.

I’m thankful for my glimpse the other day, and I’m praying that God would give me grace to keep going. And that He would remind me to look up to Him, so I can catch, rather than miss, His sunsets.

Georgia Sunset
Georgia Sunset

Spare Change

A changing of stops or a stopping of change?

They say that you eventually turn into your parents, and I’m getting dangerously close.

Take Saturday mornings, for instance, or better known in my family as “saling” day (as in garage-saling). Almost every Saturday, my mother can be found making her usual rounds on the bargain-hunting circuit. Having lived under her tutelage for 18+ summers, I now compulsively find myself looking for the tell-tale neon signs and making a very conscious effort to stay away. After all, $5 can be a lot of money for a grad student, haha.

My dad has rubbed off on me too, as I discovered all too well during our recent father-daughter road trip back from Atlanta. We had planned split the 15-hour drive to KC in half by stopping in Paducah, Kentucky, for the night. Everything was going well and we were having a grand old time… until we realized we’d taken a wrong turn… 3 hours ago. That’s right; when we were leaving Nashville, we both noticed the sign for Louisville, Kentucky, and commented, “Louisville? That sounds right!” Fast forward to 11:15 p.m. when we finally decided to look at our smart phones and discovered that we were on the wrong side of the state. Whoops. And because we’d agreed to meet a friend in Paducah the next day, we couldn’t just go from Louisville to home. Yay for three hours of back-tracking. Upon hearing about our unintended adventure, my Omi (my dad’s mom) summed it up nicely: “Oh dear. Those two need adult supervision.” Well said, Omi, well said. Overlooking minor major details? Like father, like daughter.

But the greatest way that I resemble my parents is in my response to change. As my mom says (and I often find myself repeating), “I don’t take changes very well.” As much as I love adventures and trying new things, I really don’t like change. While I’ve gotten much better enjoying the moment since studying abroad in Austria, this “living in the present” comes with an unintended consequence: I don’t stop to process changes until they finally come crashing over me like a giant tidal wave, and I’m swamped.

That’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago. The combination of not being at Kanakuk for the first time in 15 years, of living in a strange city where people use words like “yinz,” and trying to learn an almost-impossible Slavic language with more z’s than I thought humanly possible—all of this together created the “perfect storm.” All of a sudden, I found myself looking back over the last few years and coming face-to-face with how significantly my life had changed: I’d studied abroad in Austria and made incredible friends from around the world, but now we all lived thousands of miles apart. I’d graduated from Oklahoma State (where did those four years go?!) but had since lost touch with most of my college friends. Much to my surprise, I’d attended the Kanakuk Institute and watched God  to transform my life, but even those friendships had changed significantly in the last year. And while I probably have five more years of graduate school left in Atlanta, it’s going to fly by, if this past year is any indication. And then I’ll just have to pack up and move somewhere else that I’ll eventually have to leave again. In an instant, I was mercilessly struck by the temporariness of life, and all I wanted to do was curl up into the fetal position and cry. But while that might make me feel better for a little while, it wouldn’t fix the real problem. Everything around me would just keep on changing, and nothing I could do would stop it. I could try to ignore it and just “live my life,” but sooner or later, the reality would catch me again with a vengeance. But what could I do?

Having been a Christian for most of my life, I believe that the Bible truly is God’s Word and that He uses it to speak to us. For many years, I’ve read my Bible consistently, and on countless occasions, God has opened my eyes to new truths, and even in passages I’ve read a hundred times. So when I started to feel overwhelmed by the “change wave” a few weeks ago, I prayed that God would give me something new to help me through. But pray as I might, all I could see was the same stuff that He’d shown me months or years ago, but nothing new. Exasperated and desperate, I called my friend Nichole and explained to her my frustration at God’s apparent silence. Not missing a beat, she replied, “You say that you don’t like how everything around you is changing, but you’re annoyed that God keeps bringing you back to the same truth. In actuality, though, it sounds like God is answering your prayer—by being constant.”

Ouch… in a good way.

As always, Nichole had hit the nail on the head—and the truth in my heart. Here I was crying out to God for something steady and unchanging to hold onto, and there He was the entire time, waiting patiently for me to realize that He was holding onto me. And the same holds true for all of us. When everything around us is in flux, He can be counted on. When everyone around us is packing up and moving on, He’s not going anywhere. When it feels like we have “change to spare,” He isn’t changing. The book of Hebrews captures this truth with profound simplicity: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” The One who walked down the dirty streets in Galilee, healing those with just a touch of His cloak, is the same Savior who walks with us every day of our ever-changing lives. Faithful. True. Constant. That’s my—our—Jesus.

So as much as I hate change and would often give anything to slow it down or stop it, I know deep down that everything will be okay. Because while my circumstances will shift and friends may come and go, my God is constant—and He’s constantly with me. And if He’s with me, I don’t need to afraid of anything, even change.

…Speaking of change, I think I just saw a garage sale. Wanna join? 😉

Brought to you by the letter “K” :)

The letter K is one of—if not the most—underappreciated letters in the English alphabet.

For instance, if your name begins with a K and you’ve ever played a “name game,” you know exactly what I mean. You’re forced to be known as “kooky Katie” or “kangaroo Kurt,” regardless of your goofiness or your affinity for Australian marsupials.

Even within the alphabet (where, by definition, each letter should have equal representation), K is often overlooked. People skip right from J to L without a second thought. This leaves K wondering, perhaps accurately, whether anyone would notice if he simply ceased to exist. Would anyone care if K were to retire, throw in the towel, and move permanently to an assisted living community in sunny Florida?

The answer is yes. Because Kanakuk kares.

Since its founding in 1926, Kanakuk Kamps has been giving the letter K its day in kourt. At every opportunity, Kanakuk utilizes K: K-Rated (instead of G-Rated), Kooks (instead of cooks), Kounselor, Kamper, Kitchen… Oh wait, that’s already with a K. We love the letter K, and we aren’t afraid to use it.

But there is far more to Kanakuk than an unkanny appreciation for the letter K. At Kanakuk, we are krazy and kooky with a purpose: To love kiddos and teach them about Jesus.

So why am I writing you a pitch for Kanakuk? Because this magikal land has an inkredibly special place in my heart and was my home for the last seven weeks. From my first summer as ten-year-old kamper, I knew that I wanted to work as a kounselor. My dream came true after my freshman year of college, and this summer marked my third on staff and my twelfth year at Kanakuk. I love everything about Kamp: from living in teepees (yes, we actually live in teepees!), to helping kids overcome their fear of the blob, from the ridiculous heckles (try counting to 10, and you’ll see what I mean. #owen), to the special way we recite “The Pledge of Allegiance” and everything in between. Some of my best memories and closest friendships were formed here, but not because of the krazy atmosphere. No, because of what Jesus does here.

And this summer, Jesus went above and beyond the call of duty—in my life and in so many others. Packing seven weeks’ worth of lessons into one tiny blog is difficult, so I’ll do my best. Here goes…

1.  Get uncomfortable… or God will do it for you. God likes to take us just far enough outside of our comfort zone that we can still see it but can no longer reach it. Though it’s difficult and challenging, it’s in this place that we grow the most.

During my first two summers on staff, I was a kounselor for younger girls, ages 10-11 and then 8-9. Although I was initially apprehensive about this age group, I soon loved everything about it. In working with the younger kids, I’d found my element at Kamp. Coming into this summer, I knew I wanted to try something new, so I requested to be a kounselor to older girls, preferably in their late teens. But the Kamp directors—and God—had other plans; they decided to make me a U.C. or Unit Coordinator for teepees 8-10. In non-Kamp terms, I was basically a kounselor to kounselors, and I was in charge of middle-school girls. Completely different from what I had expected? Yep. Outside of my Kanakuk komfort zone? Definitely. But would I have changed anything about it? Not a chance. Through my experiences as a U.C., God stretched me, challenged me, and refined me. He forced me to rely on Him like never before, and although it was often difficult, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

2. Pray expectantly. Because God doesn’t just hear our prayers; He answers them.

Time and time again, God reminded me of this truth. Whether I was praying not to fall asleep while lifeguarding at the pool, or begging God to protect my kampers as I pulled water skiers for the first time, or anything and everything else, God heard and answered every time. This included the smallest of requests, like when I asked God for a sense of humor and then five minutes later was unclogging the most comically-disgusting toilet of my life. And it included big ones too, like when we prayed for unity as a senior kamp girl’s staff, and God made us the tightest-knit group of kounselors that I had ever seen. Big or small, trivial or monumental—God hears and answers them all.

3. Jesus is real. He’s the only One who matters, and living for Him is the only way to find hope and fulfillment.

Coming into this summer, I knew my faith had hit a rough patch. I still believed, but doubts, fears, and questions had crept in and robbed me of my joy. In the words of musician Shawn McDonald, my heart was a desert that had gone dry, and I needed His love to carry me by. So I prayed for restoration, I prayed for healing, but most of all, I prayed to have a childlike faith again. And that, my friends, is exactly what happened.

Unlike other religions which are based on man trying to reach God, in Christianity God sends His Son Jesus Christ, who reaches His loving, healing, and blood-stained hands out to us. To call it a “religion” would be a gross understatement, a misnomer of eternal proportions. It’s not about a religion; it’s no list of do’s and don’ts. No, it’s a relationship with God. The God who created the heavens and the earth, who put the stars in place and calls them each by name, the God who exists outside of time and space, and holds all things together. The God who made you and formed you, who knows everything about you… and loves you anyway. That’s what Christianity is about. And that’s the reason we are here: to have a relationship with our Creator and to praise Him with our lives.

Every week at Kamp, we have a night called Krosstalk during which we present the Gospel story to the kampers. This year was a little different, however, and the night was more of a “Krosswalk” than a Krosstalk. Kampers rotated through seven stations, and at each one they heard from a different Bible character and about how He changed their lives. Most weeks, I simply rotated through the stations with the kampers. But one week was special; I was asked to play Mary Magdalene. In case you aren’t familiar with her story, I’ll briefly recount it. Basically, Mary Magdalene was possessed by demons for many years. No one could cure her, and no one wanted to get close enough to really try. Then Jesus miraculously healed her, and in response, Mary followed Jesus, doing whatever she could to help Him and His disciples. Mary was there when Jesus was crucified; she watched in disbelief as her Healer died. Three days later, she went to the tomb where He was buried, and she was the first to hear the good news: Jesus is alive!

As I recounted Mary’s story, while standing by a fire and dressed in a bed sheet (probably not the safest thing ever), the timeless truth became real to me once more. My Jesus is alive. There is hope in a risen Savior. There is hope because my Jesus is alive!

So whether your name starts with K or Q, whether you’ve been to Kamp or have never even heard of Kanakuk, whether you’re my friend or you stumbled on this blog by accident, know this: Jesus lives. He lives for me, and He lives for you. And the only way your life will count is if you choose to live for Him.

Thanks for reading! God bless! 🙂