A lot of people do not know this about me, but I love to garden! I love all parts of the process – prepping the earth for planting, watching the seedlings turn into plants, and seeing flowers bloom or harvesting vegetables. What I love most about gardening is that every year is different. Some years, you might have the most beautiful garden with the best flowers and the biggest vegetables, while other years may yield smaller crops or a less colorful palette of florals. One year, I remember planting watermelon seeds that were supposed to be epically large. I did everything right with the soil, the spacing of each vine, and watering the right amount. However, when it came time to harvest that summer, the watermelons hadn’t even grown the size of a cantaloupe! Despite my best intentions and following the guidelines, my gardening adventure that year was admittedly quite disappointing.
The reason I mention gardening – aside from my passion for it – is because it connects with one of my favorite parables that Jesus tells in Matthew 13 called, “The Parable of the Sower.” In this story, the farmer, or the sower, throws his seeds in different types of soil in his garden. The result for each seed is different because of where the seed lands and is planted. Some seeds wither and die, some seeds turn into plants that do not produce any food, and other seeds grow large and yield abundant crops for many years.
In all my years working at camp – first as a counselor, then as a member of the Leadership team, as now as one of the full-time directors – this parable, and the metaphor of gardening, have always come to mind when I think about the kind of work we do at camp. Counselors get to “plant” attributes and virtues in the “soil” of a camper’s heart by modeling those characteristics at camp. At Camp Balcones Springs, counselors teach campers good habits and lead thought-provoking conversations about responsibility, integrity, and courage (to name only a few). Most of the time, these attributes are “planted” during our small-group cabin discussions, but there are many other times during the day that counselors get to help campers grow. Many times, the “planting” that goes on is indirect and subtle, like when campers observe counselors acting kindly towards each other or displaying thoughtfulness in their interactions throughout the day.
When I was a counselor in 2011, I had the responsibility take a middle school boy camper to the hospital to get stitches along with another counselor. He had an unusual fall while water skiing and needed his ear patched up. The other counselor with us was named Wes Jones and he was one of the best counselors ever! Wes and I helped the camper remain calm and did everything we could to distract him from focusing on the stitches. Thankfully, the amazing medical team took no time at all and the camper was able to return to camp. At the time, Wes and I did not realize it, but we were farmers helping that boy grow in ways we did not expect. Summer 2011 ended and Wes and I continued on with our lives - graduated, got jobs, got married, started a family and so on.
That summer ended, and Wes and I did what most people do in the years following a summer as a camp counselor: graduated college, got our first jobs, got married, and began to build our own families. Fast-forward to 2018 – seven years later – and I am visiting camp for the weekend to show my wife and our six-month-old son the amazing place I worked at in college. Christine gave us a tour and was showing us all of the new things at camp, like the fitness center, the lowline bridge, and the two-story blob (I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how nice the new blob dock was!). As we are going around the camp property, Christine introduced us to the counselors we passed. One of the counselors we met on our walk was named Santi. He remembered me instantly and said that he was a camper when I was a counselor. I didn’t recognize him at first – until he told me that he was the camper that Wes and I had taken to the hospital. I couldn’t believe it! He showed me his ear, and you could barely see the scar, which I was of course glad about. I was so happy to reconnect with him and find out that he himself was now a counselor standing in the same shoes I had been in when we first met.
The part that really rocked my world, however, was what Santi said about his memory of the hospital visit. He told me that day that he was in shock from the fall and very scared of what would happen. He was hurt, away from his family, and in a hospital about to get stitches on his ear. However, he told me that Wes and I helped him relax and calmed his nerves during the stress. He then went on to say that Wes and I were two of the reasons why he wanted to work at camp. He said he wanted to be like Wes, who showed compassion during a time of crisis, and me, who probably just told a lot of terrible jokes to make him laugh. Santi wanted to become a counselor that helped campers grow while feeling safe in the face of the unknown.
Talking with Santi that day was not only a fun trip down memory lane but also an impactful and moving way to see before me the crop that had grown from the seeds I had unknowingly planted when I was a counselor. That day at the hospital, although we didn’t know it at the time and were simply trying our best to be good friends and counselors, Wes and I had planted the concepts of facing fear with strength and the power that a positive attitude and encouragement from friends can have when encountering something scary or challenging. I am so thankful I was able to reconnect with Santi that day because it is rare that a counselor gets to see what happens with a camper’s journey in life after camp. However, more often than not, and even when we don’t get to see it for ourselves, campers take the lessons they learn from their counselors and go on to become amazing people, often becoming counselors themselves and seeking to play a similarly impactful role in the lives of the next generation.
That day reaffirmed to me that being a camp counselor is truly one of the best summer jobs out there. It doesn’t matter whether it happens directly during a small group discussion or indirectly through a nervous hospital visit full of bad jokes, camp makes a difference in the development of a child. And just like the farmer in “The Parable of the Sower,” sometimes the seeds we plant as counselors go on to yield crops so big that they in turn yield their own, producing a harvest so large and far-reaching that we won’t ever know its full scope.