Roses, buds, and thorns

Discovering the power of reflection through a beloved summer camp ritual 

Image by: Curtis Heinzl
Lilly learned reflecting on daily accomplishments helps you appreciate your growth.

Going to an overnight summer camp is a rite of passage for preteens. So, a week after my eleventh birthday, I stuffed my trunk with friendship bracelet string and well-worn t-shirts before embarking on the summer experience for which I’d always longed. 

I remember my first night in a cabin, laying paranoid on a top bunk, envisioning all the ways I could possibly fall off while sleeping. While other campers chit-chatted and jumped around before bed, I laid sideways facing the wall, questioning for what I’d signed myself up. As the counselor turned off the lights, she introduced everyone to a camp ritual called ‘roses, buds, and thorns.’

She went on to explain the reflective practice of sharing. A ‘rose’ is something positive that happened, ranging from a simple joy to a significant event. A ‘thorn’ represents something difficult or challenging we encountered during the day, and a ‘bud’ is something to which we’re looking forward. 

Every night for the following several summers I spent at camp, I shared my rose, bud, and thorn of my day. I looked forward to it and enjoyed hearing my other cabinmates’ daily highlights and lowlights. Sometimes, it was hard to choose one rose because the day had been so good, and other times, it felt like there were too many thorns to share.

I developed a deep love for that summer camp, working my way up through the LIT (Leadership in Training) and CIT (Counselor in Training) programs. The summer before university, I signed a full-time staff contract and decided to spend my entire summer by the pond with my friends who’d grown into counselors alongside me. 

On my first day as a staff member, I helped my campers haul their trunks up the cabin stairs, recalling the nerves I felt on my first move-in day. I watched them say hesitant goodbyes to their families, some tearfully clinging to their parents, others eagerly running off to explore the campground.

As the summer went on, I developed a passion for teaching kickball and winning capture the flag games. I enjoyed the special privileges I’d longed for as a camper and upgraded from the top bunk to a slightly larger twin sized bed.

Perhaps the most fulfilling part of my job was watching my campers experience the same beloved traditions and rituals I had as a kid: the early morning flag-raising ceremony, the sing-alongs outside the dining hall before lunch, but most importantly, the rose, bud, and thorn sharing before bed.

As I laid in bed each night listening to my own campers reflect on their day, I felt a deep sense of nostalgia for the simpler days of my own childhood. They shared their roses about winning dodgeball and getting the biggest piece of dessert, their thorns about swim lessons, and buds about tomorrow’s soccer tournament or exciting evening program.

After the summer slipped away, I repacked my trunk with notebooks and crop tops and moved into my university dorm room in September. I found that sharing my rose, bud, and thorn had forced its way into my nightly routine. As I sat with my roommate each night, I encouraged her to share her rose, bud, and thorn of the day as if she was my own camper.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve watched my daily rose, bud, and thorn evolve. What once was a straightforward way to reflect on my day and set intentions for the next has now morphed into a complex process of introspection and self-awareness.  

My roses have become increasingly nuanced. They were once simple pleasures, like a delicious meal or an afterschool activity with friends. Now, I find myself celebrating practical accomplishments, like filing my taxes properly or fixing a broken vacuum cleaner.

It makes my life sound boring, but these small wins represent a sense of responsibility and self-sufficiency in which I take pride.

I’ve also watched my problems grow up alongside me. In high school, my thorns consisted of driving lessons and SAT tutoring. Now, as a university student, my thorns feel life-defining. Getting rejected from an internship and navigating bank issues remind me how much older I’m getting.

Some of my thorns have taken on a deeper meaning, and rather than acknowledging something negative that happened during my day, I try to dig deeper and examine the root causes of my struggles. They’re often a habit I need to break, a regretful decision I made, or a fear that’s holding me back.

This is where the bud comes in: it’s a daily reminder to look forward to new possibilities and enjoy the journey that takes me there.

There’s always something to look forward to and anticipate. I try to view my bud as something deeper, like a new skill I want to learn or a friendship I want to strengthen. Whatever it is, I try to approach it with intention and purpose.

Stating my daily roses, buds, and thorns has given me so much perspective on life. My previous roses were once about personal relationships that no longer concern me. Many of my thorns are no longer my problems, and I’ve lived through so many buds to which I once looked forward. 

With my housemates each night, whether in the kitchen or on the walk home from the library, I ask them to share their rose, bud, and thorn of the day. In university, it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and lose sight of the bigger picture, but a small moment of reflection can remind us to slow down. Every day, there’s an accomplishment to celebrate, a goal to set for the future, and a challenge that’s crossed my path.

Although my roses, buds, and thorns have evolved into something much more complex than they were when I was eleven, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This simple camp tradition still helps me reflect on the positive and negative experiences each day and appreciate the growth and progress I’ve made over the years.

So, if you’re feeling like every day is the same, I recommend giving roses, buds, and thorns a try. It feels corny, but taking a few moments to think about the good, the bad, and the upcoming can help you appreciate the small victories and the changes you want to make.


Buds, camp, Refection, Roses, Self-growth, Thorns

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