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FullSizeRender-5Busy men always discover the elixir of a momentary break from the heavy responsibilities of their work.  Getting away into the country, the woods or the lake can do wonders to rejuvenate the male soul.  Hardworking men also learn that joining other men to find that relief is very effective.

It has been three years since I have been able to pal around with a special group of Michigan friends.  My life took a surprising turn when I was recruited to my present position of higher education.  The newness of the position and the long list of responsibilities were great so I stayed close to my job for two years.  Finally, it was time to reconnect with great guys.

Describing the men that I shared a few days of adventures on the plains, in the mountains and through the woods is simple.  They are a collection of different kinds of bucks.  A men’s retreat described like a herd of wild animals is saying that they are just a bunch of guys.

There are the young bucks who hurried into the cabin.  They are a lot of fun, full of energy, always moving, taking on new challenges no matter what the risks.  When it is time to eat they have a voracious appetite that defies the possible space of a normal human stomach.

FullSizeRender-6Then, there  are the seasoned bucks.  Their greying hair or loss of it identify them.  They move slower.  But, their deliberate speed is not to be confused with weakness.  There is an ancient Chinese proverb: “Age and treachery will always win over youth and inexperience.”

The dominant buck is the one who speaks and everyone stops to listen, both young and seasoned alike.  He gives direction, outlines the rules and cheers on the accomplishments of the recent activities.  While dominant he is the hardest working, doing whatever it takes to insure that all of the other bucks enjoy their time away from busy lives.

Then, there is the most favorite buck of all. All of the bucks know him. He gives fodder for years of stories to be retold and redacted.  He is the “little buck”.

From him comes the lesson for all men going to retreat with other men: Don’t make a mistake or the other bucks will never let you live it down.  It is all in good fun.  God has given each of us His amazing grace and the joy of being eternally forgiven so we in turn give that gift of forgiveness to our brothers from different mothers.

photo credit: brucefong friend photography

IMG_2885Dawn was crowding out the night.  The hazy horizon was becoming clearer as the rising sun was lighting up the eastern tree line.  My early morning walk started out in the dark but the skies were rapidly erupting into a new day.

A pond appeared over the rise.  It made me pause and drink the sounds of the awakening day.  Birds were chirping, frogs were croaking, fish were splashing and a family of deer caught my scent and peeled off to run away from their morning drink.

Now it was to time to breath.  After weeks and weeks of six-day schedules and long hours in each of those days, I was looking forward to a break.  Serenity is a place to recharge for the next round of frenzied activity.

My hosts smiled.  They pointed me to the bunk house where I set up a couple of days of my retreat.  One of the ranch hands commented, “Best place for some peace and quiet and a good dose of relaxation.”

I sat by the pond and watched it come awake.  The smooth water surface burst into countless puddles of feeding fry.  A turbulent splash and side of a feeding fish broke the surface.

Then, a shadow above caught my attention.  I froze to let whatever bird make its entrance to the pond feel safe. IMG_2888 A lone Egret glided to the ponds edge.

It landed in the water and immediately struck out with its bill to snag a single minnow in its bright yellow beak.  Then, this perfect fishing machine tilted its head back and flipped the fish into its mouth and swallowed it.  God designed this bird perfectly for this task.

None of the bird’s movements were fast or quick, that is, until it was ready to strike.  Then, it was acted with blazing speed.  Until then, however, it moved with slowness, cautiously, carefully, watchfully.

When it walked it moved deliberately.  Slowly it picked up one foot at a time and placed it into the water with very little disturbance.  You could see its eyes concentrating on the next lung of its long neck and needle sharp beak snapping up a morsel for its progressive meal.

Some times the Egret would crouch low, getting a better angle on the highly reflective water surface.  It looked like a panther on the prowl for a wily prey.  This was hunting perfection, a perfectly created creature in pursuit of its daily bread.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Miles were falling away behind me.  At freeway speeds the city, responsibilities, pressures were becoming distant echoes.  I was enjoying the long drive into solitude.

Just to keep my head above the water, I will occasionally head out for a personal retreat.  This time it is just for an overnight.  I had all that I needed packed into my trusty pickup truck.

Yvonne understands this need to find relief.  She is amazing to let me do these journeys into prayer, exclusive time with the LORD and moments of refreshment.  Ministry is like that.

My day at the office came to an end.  I looked at the clock and packed up my stuff.  It was time to head out of the city and began my retreat.

The traffic was heavy.  My escape was hampered.  But, I knew this going into this planned day-off.

After the sun had disappeared, twilight had filled up the sky and my telephone rang.  Yvonne had called.  We had a long chat about our day and then my plans for my trip.

It was time for her to begin her evening hours of grading papers.  I needed to focus on my driving since night was crowding out the day.  Traffic was getting light but so was visibility.

Hours later I checked into my hotel.  It was a good choice.  The desk clerk was friendly and the room was wonderfully comfortable.

Early the next morning I checked out and set out to find the ranch that was my destination.  I had permission to hike the hills of central California.  Originally, the plan was to do some 4×4 free wheelin’ but the rain had made the grounds too muddy.

I donned my hiking boots, took my basic equipment into the field and set my sites for the hills beyond the gate.  My contacts sent me the combination to the gate lock.  They also sent me a map by email. 

The sun was shining through the grey clouds, pregnant with precipitation.  That evening enough rain had fallen to form puddles and sloppy mud where I walked.  After just a few miles, my boots were caked with a couple of inches of the mud.  I was taller!

Deep into the ranch I found a place to sit, take in God’s creation and pray through my list of requests.  After that I just talked with my Heavenly Father about the important matters of the heart.  It was invigorating.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography