"¿Entonces? When are we going to get it? Ya te vas mañana."
I was leaving to Kulaqua within 24 hours so we hustled to the Mall of America, the land of endless stores, hoping we could find a deal on outdoor gear. I bypassed my usual stores: H&M and Forever 21. I was excited to get a proper rain jacket because up until now, all I had owned was a useless yellow jacket from H&M; I never expected it to do anything for the rain. I only purchased it to quench my disappointment from never finding a yellow toggle coat back when those were 'in.'
"¿Aqui? Should we look in here?" It was an outdoors-y store—the kind a city slicker who purchases clothing purely for aesthetics never goes into. I shrugged why my shoulders.
"Sure. Why not?"
At some point this past school year while I was undergoing so many changes, I snapped. I haven't been living my life. All I do is work, mostly out of ambitious obligation; I neglect my friends, and do I even know what it's like to have fun? That's it, I thought. It's time to change now; I will be a fun life mate and a fun father, and that begins now. It was the kind of thinking Joshua Harris would be proud of. Or Ellen White.
"Listen bro," he took a sip of coffee; it was a good Americano. Dan knows the best local coffee joints in the Twin Cities. I want to get rich so I can get my mom a nice place and take care of her. All she's ever known is work. She's been working since she was a child. She's never stopped working and it's time she rests. "Honestly, that's big on motivating me."
His words caused me to visualize my own parents whose lives have also been mostly composed of labor—hard labor. The kind of labor that causes arthritis and bad backs, not from sitting, but from lifting engines and cleaning toilets. I pictured my mother as a thirteen-year old, waking up before sun up to go work for wealthy families; I saw her dashing to school after her ironing job, and then I saw her moving alone to go back to work after class. Then I saw her taking care of my uncles and younger aunts when she finally made it back home. I saw her going to sleep, knowing she needed to cover all her expenses and then some. I saw my father as a confused twenty year old moving to the United States of America, far from home and working in a Vietnamese restaurant in Texas.
I am a workaholic. I love to work, love to feel frantically busy, and to pinwheel from project to project. Even my down-time habits are work-drive: writing to practice, reading for content, photoing for taste, and hanging out for stories. My Protestant Mexican-American background only reinforces my obsession with work and productivity. And the questions for us busy folk are simple:
What are you busy with?
Are those things worth your preciously limited attention?
A year ago, if you asked me about summer camp ministries I would scoff. No way. I can't grow a beard, and I don't know how to have fun, I would say. Well, I still can't grow a beard, but I have decided it's time this old man jovencito learn to have fun.
Over the years, many significant people have spoken highly of summer camp experiences. They used words like "awesome," "life-changing," and "incredible." Cynically, I would think cool story, fam but I'm a keep doing real summer ministries while you babysit children blobbing into lakes all summer. But as the personalities behind the testimonies became more fascinating, more nuanced, and more important to me, I began to wonder if there was some truth and ministry to the summer camp thing. Could ministry and fun really go hand-in-hand? I wasn't sure, but I needed to find out.
So then I signed up to work for two summer camps.
Big changes for someone whose previous camping experience could mostly be summarized in one word: Oshkosh. (Cue the laughter from real campers.)
We finally settled on a jacket from Columbia; it seemed appropriate. I was a little worried that it wasn't Patagonia or coming from REI, but I've heard outdoors folks get stuff from Columbia too. Plus, it had a sweet clearance rack. My mother and I were trying to decide between two options at a similar price, but neither one of us really understood the difference between the two jackets so we called someone over. Excuse me, but what exactly am I paying for if I choose this one versus that one? Well, this one is weather-resistant and warmer, but that one is rain-proof and has wick technology built into it.
"Wait, what?" Technology has invaded jackets now? No wonder the conservatives love their end-time sermons, I thought. To him I said, "Which one will keep me drier?"
"Ok, we'll take that one in black." It'll complement more outfits, I said to myself.
I've been told you don't earn much money at summer camp and this worries me. Come this way, sir. I'll ring you up here. But I spent my last summer trying so hard to earn lots of money selling books in the name of Jesus, and barely contributed to the tuition bill. Will that be all? I handed him the jacket. Yes, that will be all. Also, I'm not sure how "floor hockey instructor" and "camp video guy" will look on a resume. Do you have an account with us? If you do, it will save you an addition 20%. I don't. Is it a credit card? I have plenty of those. But these two camps have been sacred places for some pretty cool people, and I'm ready to explore them in the hopes of finding a sacred place of my own. No sir, it's an account that will be associated with your phone number and it gets—he rattled on about some great deals, but I had already decided I wanted it.
Because I don't know if any more camp ministry summers are in my resume's future, but I do know I'm a need more practical gear for my future outdoor adventures. Besides, I saw a blue down-jacket that would go great with my Urban Outfitters joggers.
"Gracias, ma" I said while hugging her. The sales clerk had given me back my jacket and we were walking out of Columbia. "No worries, mijo. Mothers do everything for their children."
I know, mom. I know.