Swimming in the Water of TLC

Posted on August 9th, 2018 by

We swim in the water we are born into at birth. 

Sometimes it is full of love.  And sometimes it is not.

And we don’t realize, often, that if it is not, when we grow up we can climb out of that water that is unhealthy for us and find water that will give life, rather than take it away.

If we swim in waters of suspicion, or negativity, or greed, or fear, that is what we come to know and practice.

If we swim in waters that say this group can swim here but that group is excluded, that is what we will come to know and practice.

If we swim in waters that say this is mine, mine, mine, and all of you stay out, that is what we come to know and practice.

But if we swim in waters of kindness….

Mason Bultje

Today is the last day of summer camps.  The reason I return year after year for 37 years is to be reminded of the water that is TLC.  To be reminded of who I can be when I am surrounded by people like this staff.  I have the capacity to be kind when others are cruel.  I have the capacity to listen when others speak over one another.  I have the capacity to laugh from my belly as I celebrate someone’s success when others laugh at people’s failures.  I have the capacity to open my heart a little wider and love when I am receiving the kind of love given freely here by this staff to all at TLC.

And I have the capacity to forgive and ask for forgiveness when I have made a mistake.

Katie Aney

I get to practice this in the eight-week “Three Crowns and Serenity Boot Camp” we call TLC every summer.  Positive Attitude, Full Effort, Good Sportsmanship.  Accept what I cannot change, change what I can, discern the difference.

All of the messiness of human nature plays out in close quarters when you are working 24/7 for eight weeks solid, two camps a week.  The worst can come out when we are tired, overwhelmed, and sleep deprived.

But what I have seen, over and over, is the surprising best come out of this particular staff.  It has stunned me often.

Rol-Dri Heroes

When there is a job to be done, this staff has pitched in without even being asked (or if they are asked, they say where do you need me, I’m there), even if it has taken away free time, when one of their friends has gotten sick and we need a last-minute replacement on court.  Or when a dorm counselor needs help.  Or when water jugs are low and the person in charge of them needs a ten-minute hand.  Or when the courts are soaked from rain and rol driers are doing their best to get campers back on the courts with a grueling technique we call “edging” (like snow plowing).

Natalie Wijesinghe

There are some staff members who have gotten up early every, single morning to lead demos (Mason Bultje and Katie Aney), to lead aerobics (Katie Schmoker), to be in a skit (Natalie Wijesinghe and Zach Janssen).  These are things that may seem fresh for a few camps, but for fifteen camps in a row every morning when other staff have a few extra minutes to rest, it is monumental.

Katie Schmoker

And there are the intentional conversations we are having on gender, race, religious, and sexuality equity as a staff, which can be painful and eye opening for us all.  Every staff member is committed to learning more about how we can as a camp and individuals uphold the dignity of all individuals and all groups who are pushed to the margins.  All of this on top of a commitment to becoming first rate instructors or media people or office managers.  That’s a lot.

But I have watched these people swim.  They swim in the water of kindness, humor, service, and love.  It is what they know and practice.  Not perfectly.  But consistently.

Zach Janssen

And I know where I want to swim.  Beside them.

When we go back into the world tomorrow, we know what kind of wellspring we can create in our families, our teams, our schools, our homes, and our minds.  Because we now know we get to choose the water we swim in.

Watching them, I have learned something life changing.   The water is more refreshing the deeper you dive into kindness and service.

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  1. Jennifer Kirby says:

    What a wonderful post! It gave me goosebumps. What a good reminder as I start my day. Thank you, Neal!

  2. Caroline, Bill, Ben and Grace O’Brien says:

    Beautiful tribute to the amazing camp experience you and the staff create by cultivating values that elevate us as human beings on and off the court. Can’t wait to swim again with TLC in 2019!

  3. Rial Black says:

    I’ve come to two TLC camps Neal. The first one, I came for my wife, Elly. I came back to the second one because of you and your morning reflections. Your latest post, Swimming in the water of TLC, is an extension of your morning reflections and is one of the best kept secrets of your camps. I’m looking forward coming back again! The tennis wasn’t bad either!

  4. Lucky Coppa says:

    Year after year I find the person I know I love. Somehow throughout the year it can slip away.
    Thanks for bringing him back to me.

    It looks like I’ve hooked another family, my daughter and the Wente Clan.

    Cheryl is in the midst of USTA 3.0 State Championship in Madison, WI. IF YOU’D root her and the team on for the next 12 hours it would help so much!


    Her team will make regionals!

  5. Karen Mann says:

    Thanks for providing the waters that we, as campers, get to swim in for a short time each summer! I try to bring some of that water back to our space each time!!🌊

  6. Deb Vetter says:

    Beautifully written once again, Neal. You have shared the beauty and truth that continue to make TLC a blessing to all.

  7. Susan willer says:

    Paige Willer just completed her 6th and final TLC as a camper. As her mom I’ve seen her grow into the person she wants to be, she comes alive at camp and when I ask her “what was the best part of camp?” Paige always says “everything”. Thank you Barb, Neil and all the instructors!

  8. Elly Black says:

    WOW! JUST WOW!!!

  9. Colleen Roess says:

    TLC is simply the best!!! Looking forward to sending our second child through next summer. Thank you Neal and counselors for what you do for our kiddos!