Young Life Lite

As a rule, teenage girls bound for Young Life camp don’t pack light. Some girls arrive with two suitcases; one for clothes and one for shoes. Most manage with just one suitcase, but a girl can cram a summer wardrobe into one suitcase if it’s big enough — and soft-sided with industrial-strength zippers and expandable panels.

When Keely Wagner of Schulenburg, Texas, signed up for a Young Life summer backpacking trip, she wasn’t overly worried about what she’d pack. In fact, she signed up on a whim reasoning that too few would sign up to make the trip a reality. She was surprised, then, when her leader announced the trip was a go and that she, two leaders and five friends would be headed to Colorado’s Wilderness Ranch after all. She was even more surprised when she received the packing list.

The packing list called for hiking boots, tennis shoes, wool socks, shorts (two pair), pants (two pair) and underwear (two pair). “You have got to be kidding me,” Keely said. “This has to be against the law. I knew there was no backing out, but still, are you serious? Two changes of clothes the whole week?”

She was grateful for the light load when she hit the trail with her group of eight and their guide. The hiking was strenuous and even the limited gear on her back felt heavy. But Keely says the pain lessened and the load got lighter as the week went on and she learned about the burdens her friends were carrying.

Part of the Wilderness experience involves sharing your life story — its highs and lows. Every night someone took a turn. Keely went first, and shared about her Christian upbringing, her fun high school years and some heartache over a boyfriend her parents didn’t approve of. Pretty normal stuff, she thought. And then her friends shared their stories.

Tabitha still struggled watching her mom fight breast cancer. Mitchell, the class clown, talked about his parents’ divorce and his shuffle between homes in the midst of their contentious relationship. Brittany talked about her dad’s addiction and financial troubles. Tyler, a 6-foot-2-inch football player, broke down when he talked about his early childhood in foster care and life on the streets witnessing shoot-outs and drive-bys.

 “Each day was an eye-opening experience for me. I thought I knew these people so well, but they brought things to the group that I had never known,” said Keely. Kids come to camp with a lot of baggage, and the heaviest stuff isn’t what they cram in a suitcase.  Keely’s especially aware of that now.

Five years after her trip and now a middle school English teacher, Keely appreciates the unseen burdens of teenage kids. “I look at students and wonder why they struggle in class, why they aren’t dressed appropriately or can’t get along with their peers. What else is going on?”

To find out, Keely is embarking on a new adventure. This time, she’ll serve as a leader in the high school where she met Young Life. She’s packing light so she can help carry the load of some kids who need a hand and the opportunity to leave their burdens in Jesus’ care.