He was, he says, “an idiot high schooler sent to work on LLYC Program Crew” in 1997 after making a poor decision involving underage drinking, tobacco, and a well-known big box “superstore.” Recently, Laity Lodge Family Camp talked with him about his relationship to camp, and he explained, “God used that [first] summer (and camp) to grab my heart for the first time. I would count it as one of the most transformative experiences of my life.”
Jonny said Program Crew “changed everything about how I viewed my relationship with Jesus, how I viewed myself and how I related to others.” Camp at LLYC was his first taste of a spiritual life so much richer than how he had been living up until then.
After that life-changing summer, Jonny returned to the Canyon—specifically Singing Hills—for the next five years serving in the roles of Cabin 6 Counselor and Activities Director. “Every summer I got that same sense,” said Jonny, “and it influenced how I lived my college years and on into my adult life. As a result I’ve never pursued God out of fear or obligation; I’ve pursued him because life was so much fuller with him in it.”
Jonny believes camp even influenced his career choice and approach within that career. Since 2008, Jonny has served as a marriage and family counselor—MA, LPC. “Put simply,” he said, “camp taught me that relationship is more important than a plan, objective, or treatment approach. Being a counselor that focuses on marriage and intimate relationships, I’m brought back to this simple truth on a regular basis.”
While attending grad school in Dallas, Jonny interned at a local church where he helped launch a premarital ministry that now serves upward of 1,000 couples per year. “This time was instrumental,” said Jonny, “in knowing that I loved working with couples.”
Upon graduation from Dallas Seminary, he got involved with a private practice in Dallas where he continued to work heavily with couples and also got connected with the Gaston House—a transitional living facility for young men coming out of primary treatment for substance abuse and addiction. “Over the three years I worked at Gaston,” Jonny said, “I got to see numerous young men come out of the depths of addiction and find life and relationship for the very first time. Getting to be on the front lines with those young men and see the miracle that is recovery is one of the great privileges of my life.”
In 2014, Jonny and his wife, Mica (you MAY know her—maydesigns.com) transplanted to Austin where he opened his private marriage and family counseling practice. In just a few years, the Austin community has become home for the Mays and their three kiddos—Madi (8), Jax (9), and Harper (5).
While in Austin, Jonny learned of the 2016 LLYC 50 Year Reunion event. It had been over a decade since he last stepped foot in the Canyon, and he had always longed to share Camp with his family. For the Reunion weekend, the May family stayed at Headwaters—everyone’s very first exposure to LLFC—and had an amazing experience. Jonny said, “Most impactful for me was having my family experience camp for themselves instead of just hearing my memories. It’s like having a treasure you’ve never been able to fully share finally put on display and those you love really understanding for themselves.” Having now experienced a taste of both LLYC and LLFC, the whole May clan hoped to return to the Canyon as soon as possible. And when a last minute opening for Family Camp came available in June of the following summer, they jumped at the opportunity.
“There was no question that we would take it,” said Jonny.
Reflecting on his family’s first week-long Family Camp, Jonny said, “Obviously a huge part of our family’s experience anywhere is the dynamic that Jackson brings with him. He brings light, joy and unending grace to everyone he meets, but he also brings challenges and frustrations.”
One of the special things the Mays began to notice throughout the weeks was how the staff and other families began to incorporate Jax’s gifts and challenges into their daily schedules. “I can’t count the number of times another parent or counselor would pull Mica or me aside and say ‘I just saw Jax going…’” he said. “It was like having a camp full of extra eyes all working together to keep him safe.”
In the same breath, Jonny cherishes the fact that “my girls have gotten to experience freedom! I literally tell them to stay out of the water and within the infield road, and aside from that they have free reign. They have loved that aspect more than I can explain.”
And the Mays have found respite in the Canyon for themselves. Jonny explained, “Mica and I are enriched in the simple fact that our technology doesn’t work. We can easily fall into an unhealthy pattern of spending the end of our evenings lost in our phones. That isn’t an option when we are in the Canyon, and we instead find ourselves on the porch longer talking, connecting, and having much richer interaction.”
Jonny was excited when Family Camp’s Senior Director, Cary Hendricks, approached him about the possibility of counseling families at Headwaters. “The Canyon has often been described as a ‘thin place’ where experiencing God just seems easier,” Jonny said. “The idea of getting to sit with couples in that place was like being asked to drive a car and then receiving the keys to a Ferrari.”
Jonny has experienced first hand the way God touches lives in the Canyon. “It’s a place where you don’t have to perform, where busyness and posturing have no legitimate place. It’s a place that makes it easier to be your authentic self than to be whoever you think you are supposed to be.”
Over the next year, Jonny and Cary prepared for the following summer. They talked at length about the mission of Family Camp and the broader Foundation. As they talked, Cary recalls thinking, “What a fit for us and the work we do here at Family Camp. As a teenager, Jonny experienced first-hand the mission of our organization—down the river at LLYC. And in all the ways you hope, the impact of that experience is so evident in his life today. It’s just obvious when you spend time talking to him and watching him with his family.” The summer that followed was just as Cary imagined. “Families truly connected with JM as a counselor. He took part with us in creating another space—another way—for families to reconnect, to be real, and to grow.”
For Jonny, a huge part of counseling, particularly with couples, is investing the time and work needed to find the real conversations that need to be had. He explained, “Helping couples—even really healthy ones—fine tune this aspect of their relationship is essential for connection with each other, their family, and with God.”
“Human beings are narrative based creatures. No question about it,” he added. “We process, learn, interact, relate, and experience all of life through story. Part of finding the right conversation whether as a couple or individual is about understanding what story I tell myself because it will influence how I interact with God and with others.”
Reflecting on the families he engaged with this past summer along with his own Program Crew days, Jonny concluded, “Part of what makes time in the Canyon so restorative is that people feel safe, and when people feel safe they stop trying to hide. And that is when the story finally has room to change.”