Schlepp-tastic

luggage
My last three weeks. Proof that not all travel is Instagram-worthy.

I. Hate. Packing.

And by “hate”, I mean that I would rather be hung upside down by my toes while being tickled, be stuck watching Groundhog Day on repeat, or spend an entire day doing nothing but coloring books. In other words, packing is one of my very least favorite things to do.

Why do I hate it so much? So many reasons.

  1. It’s stressful. You have to think through so many potential outcomes and plan for them. And no matter how hard I try, I still manage to forget something essential.
  2. I have an over-packing problem. Even when I was a kid, I would manage to fill a massive duffel bag every time we took weekend trip. And to this day, no matter how hard I try, my luggage is still always at—or slightly over—the weight limit.
  3. Whatever you pack, you then have to carry.

The most memorable example of #3 happened when I was leaving Austria. When I booked my ticket, the two 50-pound bags were still permitted on international flights. On the night before I returned to the States, I left my suitcases in a train-station locker on the way to the airport, so I wouldn’t have to haul them across town the next day. What I failed to notice, though, was that this particular train station was under construction. Which meant that a) I had to navigate a series of zig-zagging hallways to get out of the station, b) throughout these hallways were scattered random sets of stairs, and c) of courses there were no working elevators. As a result, what should have been an easy exit became a weight-lifting obstacle course. In mid-July. By the time I finally escaped the train station and made it to the airport, I was, quite literally, a hot—and very sweaty—mess. Not a great way to start a 9-hour flight.

That was 6 years ago. I’ve done a lot of traveling since then, so you’d think by now I’d be a professional packer. And in many ways, I have definitely improved. I’ve since invested in a lighter suitcase (which makes such a difference), I’ve discovered the trick of rolling your clothes to make them fit, and I now own a small traveling scale, so I can check the weight of my luggage before I get to the airport.

But probably the biggest game-changer has been my new packing strategy. Several days before I leave, I commandeer a large open space (usually my younger sister’s bedroom. Thanks, Rascal.) and make several piles: of must-bring, of maybe-bring, and bring only if absolutely necessary. Then I spend the next few days sifting through and rearranging the piles. By the time my trip rolls around, I know that I have what I actually need.

This worked really well for my flight to Europe last summer. I managed to fit an entire year’s worth of things into a single 50-pound suitcase. But unfortunately, I’ve had to pack many times since then, most recently for a three-week research trip in south-central Germany. And because the start of this trip coincided with the end of my lease in Berlin, I also needed to move the rest of my belongings to store them at a friend’s place. And thanks to timing (getting back from a short weekend trip that Sunday and flying out early Monday morning), I couldn’t follow my “start early, eliminate often” strategy. And that’s how I got stuck lugging around an unnecessarily heavy suitcase for three weeks.

Side note: you don’t realize how much stuff you have—or how heavy things are—until you have to carry them everywhere via public transit. And I had to carry them everywhere: in the last 22 days, I’ve stayed in a total of 9 places, which means that I have also moved my belongings at least nine times. And the midst of all this stuff-schlepping, I had ample time to contemplate why the heck I was carrying all of this stuff and to ask myself why in the world it was so darn heavy.

I already knew the reason, though. Because I didn’t get to take out the random extra things before I left. On their own, those little things were basically nothing, but together they added up. If I had just been able to reevaluate my suitcase’s contents, I would have had a much more pleasant journey… and my shoulders wouldn’t hurt so badly right now.

As I was dragging the suitcase (yet again) through Berlin yesterday, I realized something: in the same way that I was dragging around more than was necessary in my suitcase, I often lug around more than I should spiritually. Whether it’s “big things” like getting a job or “small things” like where I am going to research next, I tend to schlepp around way more in my spiritual suitcase than God intended. Instead of lugging them around endlessly, He wants me to carry them to Him. That’s why 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxieties upon Him, for He cares for you” and Psalm 68:19 tells us that God “daily bears our burdens.” But because God respects us, He won’t just take them away; He asks us to bring them to Him in prayer. And it doesn’t just happen; we have to actively do it. In the same way that I pack the lightest when I take the time reevaluate, I also live most freely when I consistently take stock of my cares and consciously give them to the Lord.

Alright, that’s enough writing for today. I leave for the States for 10 days tomorrow, and I need to finish packing…

suitcase
No, that’s not staged. That’s actually how my suitcase looked as I was writing this blog post. 
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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! 🙂

Small Envelope, Big Lesson

I knew the answer before I even opened the envelope. It was supposed to be 8.5×11 inches. It was supposed to be several pages thick. It was supposed to contain my contract for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant job in Germany.

It didn’t.

No, instead it held a single-page, typed letter with these fateful words, “You have been designated as an alternate for the U.S. Student Fulbright Program. Thus you would receive an award only in the event someone withdraws.” And with those words, my future dramatically shifted, and a metaphorical door swung emphatically, suddenly—and likely permanently—shut.

Since returning last July from my exchange semester in Graz, Austria, I had planned on applying for the Fulbright. I researched my different options, talked to friends who had received the grant in previous years, and decided that an English Teaching Assistantship would be the best fit for me. Throughout the fall, I spent countless hours laboring over my application, writing, editing, and revising draft after draft of my essays. Then in January and February, I painstakingly rewrote those same essays in German, working hours on end (and likely driving my German professor crazy with all my emails). I’d never worked so hard for something in my entire life, and I had never wanted something so badly. Although I wouldn’t say that the Fulbright became an “obsession,” it did consume a significant portion of my time, energy, and thoughts. I poured my heart and soul into that application, and I wanted the Fulbright more than anything. (Pause. But hold that thought).

This last weekend, I attended an event called “Passion” in Fort Worth, Texas. Founded in 1997, Passion is a global movement to unite college students with the desire to live for Jesus and make Him known. (For more information and a much better description, check out 268generation.com). I had registered for it almost a year before, and although I was looking forward to it, I had no idea what God had in store.

The first breakthrough came on Friday night.

“How much do you love Me, Steffi?” God seemed to ask (Note: God didn’t speak to me audibly. But I knew He was talking to me. I know it probably sounds crazy, but it’s true. I promise. Even if you think I am whacky, please humor me and keep reading). “Do you love me more than your own desires, your family, your health, your dreams, your life?”

I wanted the answer to be yes. I wanted to be able to say that I loved Him more than anything. But when I looked at my life, I knew that I didn’t. (Lying to God is a bad idea, generally speaking. Just fyi.). You see, I wanted my desires to be fulfilled, I wanted my family to stay safe, I wanted to be healthy, and most of all I wanted my life to turn out according to my plan. I loved myself too much. I didn’t want to lose anything.

“How much do you love Me?” I heard Him whisper again. “Whoever wants to save His life with lose it, but whoever loses His life for My sake will find it.”

“But, Lord,” I protested, “I love my life. I like how things are going; I don’t want anything to change. I don’t want to lose things.”

“Whoever wants to save His life will lose it. How much do you love Me?”

And that’s when it hit me like a bucket of cold water on a hot summer afternoon, or better yet, like the time I accidentally touched an electric fence at my friend’s farm. (Luckily, no one dumped cold water on me at the same time; that would have been very bad). If I tried to hold onto my life with white-knuckled grip, I would definitely lose it. I wouldn’t necessarily die sooner, per se, but I wouldn’t truly enjoy my life because I would be constantly worrying about how to best preserve it. Furthermore, that meant that I loved my own life more than I loved Jesus. He wanted all of me, not just the few odds and ends I was willing to loan him. He wanted my whole heart. Nothing short of everything.

Having finally understood that truth, I bowed my head and prayed. I asked Jesus to help me to love Him more than anything else. I told Him to do whatever He needed to do to change my heart. Even if that meant losing the things that I loved or wanted the most. Including the Fulbright. “Be my one desire, Lord,” I prayed. “Do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

This afternoon at 5:03 p.m. He answered that prayer.

Yes, my heart hurts. Yes, I am extremely disappointed. I’ve broken down crying several times (and my eyelids are now puffy). I don’t think that that the reality of it has entirely sunk in yet, and I know that I’ll be sorting through many difficult emotions in the weeks and months to come. But at the same time and in the midst of all that, I have a deep sense of peace. I know beyond all shadow of doubt that my God is good, He is bigger, and that He is working out everything—including this—as He sees best. And most importantly, He is helping me love Him more than anything. That alone makes this heartache worthwhile.

After reading the letter, a Bible verse immediately came into my head. “As for me, I will always have hope. I will praise You more and more” (Psalm 71:14). It was quickly followed by lyrics of a song from Passion, “Oh, I’m running to Your arms. The riches of Your love will always be enough.” (“Forever Reign” by Kristian Stanfill). I write those words from the bottom of my heart, and I’m praying that God will help me mean them even more sincerely with every passing day. No matter what happens, I will always have hope in Jesus. Even when I am hurting, I will praise Him. Nothing on this earth can compare to Him, and His love will always be enough for me, no matter what happens. Even when the envelope is too small.