When Garrett Niles was in the third grade, his mother brought home a second brother.
Heber was a student at the middle school where she taught. He was an immigrant from Guatemala; his story had stains of neglect and trauma. When Garrett’s mom, Karyn, met him, Heber’s father had died and he was facing homelessness.
Garrett and his younger brother, Zach, weren’t part of the conversations his parents had back then about Heber. But Garrett does remember that his mom was shaken. And he remembers his dad saying this:
“‘Heber doesn’t have a room to stay in, and we have an extra room.’ And so, bada bing, bada boom, I got another brother.”
One might argue that this was Garrett’s big turning point: “I was the first-born child but I’m not the oldest,” he says, with such ease, it likely is a common phrase of his.
But in truth, to hear Garrett describe it, it was just something that happened, something that brought more love into his life. “And now, whenever Heber comes home, the first thing he says is, ‘Where are the boys?!”
For 18-year-old Garrett, who is spending his last few weeks of high school interning at BPC, a turning point moment was the day in second grade he spotted “a weird kid hopping around the playground, playing like the floor was lava. I thought, ‘I want to be part of that!’”
Josh Lee was that kid, and before long, he had invited Garrett to come to Rainbow, the mid-week retreat for kids at BPC. Garrett was part of the table of kids who, on pizza nights, raced to see how many whole pies they could consume in one sitting.
He played “dragon tails” in the Meeting House, where kids tried to stomp off one another’s taped-on ropes … “one of the funnest games ever.”
And he says he will never forget walking into the library for the education portion of one evening. Teacher Greg Diggs had turned off all the lights and upended all the chairs and tables into a kind of tornado-hit-this-place effect. It was chaos.
“We were studying Genesis, I think, and he said, ‘Welcome to Earth. Now, create it, just like God did.’ So we were climbing all over the tables, and crawling around like animals and moving things into place. It was so creative and it really made us think.”
For Garrett, Rainbow led to youth group and IMPACT choir tours, musicals, and conferences—-things he calls “groundbreaking” in terms of his personal development.
The tours and conferences in particular took him out of his comfort zone, away from home, really, for the first time. “And there is something about that, about being in a new place. You’re all at different ages but you’re sort of in this together and so you get closer.”
Through church programs, he has met countless “super cool kids,” which for Garrett means they are comfortable in their own weirdness.
At Montreat’s youth conferences, Garrett would introduce himself this way:
Hello, my name is Garrett. I poop three or four times a day and my toothbrush is green.
“See?” he said. “A little weird.”
Sometimes that weirdness is what helps lighten the load for a kid, Garrett said. At Massanetta youth conferences, where Garrett has worked for several summers as a counselor, the kids would have “cry nights.” No topic was off the table: divorce, the death of parents, bullying, sexual assault.
“We do a lot of ‘love-tubbing,’ where you push two couches together and just all get in there and lie down or sit on top of each other and just be … You don’t have space to not be open in a place like that.”
Garrett has been part of the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee to bring a new youth director to BPC. And he’s spending hours at the church these days because he’s wondering whether all those moments of weirdness and cry-night-ing and love-tubbing are God’s way of telling him something.
He will head to Virginia Tech to study marketing in the fall. But long term?
“Being around all these people of faith has kind of turned me on to the possibility that God is calling me to seminary,” he said.
And then, he talks some more about his family, and his brother Heber, and his roots that are full of love.
“Of course, my mom has been telling me this for years.”