Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But I need a dramatic jumping off point before I can swim back to the surface. Plus, I’m feeling a little rusty after no blogs or podcasts these last few weeks due to our recently held YOBBERS retreat (by the way, we’re back!).

In truth, I’ve been stressed leading each of our four camp retreats now. There was the first retreat back in 2018, thinking the resounding thought as strangers started crunching across a gravel parking lot: are we crazy? Is this experiment even going to work? Or is it about to get all kinds of awkward? And not the (hopefully) endearing sort of awkward with our blogs and podcasts, but the cringy, need to flee the scene immediately sort of awkward.

Then there was the second retreat in 2019, an event held without a distinct portion of my original support in this community. Would it work a second time around, or was it magic in a bottle meant for one weekend only? We made things more faith-focused the second time. Would our multi-denominational community go for it? Or would it feel too convoluted?

Our third retreat wouldn’t come for over two years due to the pandemic. Many folks had come and gone over the previous couple years, and with mostly new folks registered I honestly wondered: do we still have something here? Will it “work” for a new crowd, or had we lost vital momentum?

And then came this year’s retreat. Our first back-to-back retreat in three years. I guess we’re really doing this again, I thought, this whole retreat thing. Is this officially an annual event now?

Can I handle that? Goodness, can I really put on a retreat every year for the rest of my life? Or need I only focus on this year’s retreat, letting tomorrow’s retreat worry for itself?

I entered this fourth camp retreat in perhaps my most unhealthy headspace of the four. I felt rushed in the preparation, behind on all the decor and planning which led to a lot of sacrificed self-care, too. Because how can I sleep or eat or exercise or socialize at the same capacity with such a mammoth task at hand?!

I had help planning, certainly, but the tasks kept multiplying the more we planned. We implemented many new components at this retreat, so perhaps this was a lesson in learning not to bite off more than I could chew for future retreats (or anything else in life, really).

Intersected with all the usual stress of retreat logistics, I was also told I’d need to find a new place to live by month’s end. So, during an entire weekend when I could (should?) be searching for apartments, I would instead be cutting myself off from any possibility of finding a new home.

After all, what is a “retreat” without a cutting off, a leaving behind, a pressing pause?

The first day hit me hard. Rushing through setup and travel mishaps galore, with several guys needing to cancel for all sorts of unfortunate reasons. All of it was out of my hands, of course, but still. I felt down. The energy wasn’t good. Registration and first night festivities felt more chaotic this year. I went to bed deflated that first night, and I hardly slept. Definitely my worst night of sleep in four retreats.

But then came the morning . . .

I’m constantly inspired by our community. Do I say that enough? We’ve scheduled sunrise prayer at these past two retreats, and each time I’ve convinced myself nobody will wake up that early to join me. For what? To pray? Are we monks?

Alas. Those darling monks always wake up and show up, even in the cover of dark.

Of all the diverse things we do on these retreats, the groups and games and getting together, sunrise prayer has become my favorite block of the weekend. It’s certainly the simplest. We just grab our coffee, some of us still in our pajamas, and we sit around a table, taking turns in prayer for the weekend, lifting up one another, and lifting up the name of Jesus in our midst.

It shouldn’t be all that magical. Shouldn’t make me smile as much as it does. But it does. I love praying with my other brothers. Especially while the sun breaks the dark.

It’s a snapshot of eternity, those sacred early morning moments with brothers. The air around us still gray, the light seemingly so far away. And oh the beckoning of a solid night’s sleep in our own beds back home, free of the snorers in the bunks beside us (we love our snorers).

Or there’s the beckoning of another life entirely. A life either free of our convictions or basking in the totality of their realized reward.

And yet the presence of Jesus, our truest other Brother, prevails in those precious moments as we pray together in his name.

Despite the horrible night’s sleep, that first sunrise prayer set me on a solid trajectory for the rest of the weekend. Our second morning together felt even sweeter, praying from a lodge overlooking the lake, the room packed to the brim. Maybe the vibes were just higher after our previous day together, plus the extra hour of sleep we’d gained from Daylight Savings? That second night was easily my best night of sleep in four retreats.

The stress melted away by the end of the retreat, as it always does. These events are always worth the work. I just need to show myself more grace in the weeks preceding these retreats. And certainly on the first day when things feel chaotic.

Oh, and as for that “paused” anxiety of finding a new place to live? Resolved within 24 hours of coming home. I’m blogging from my new place now. Praise God.

Honestly, I could tell story after story from this year’s YOBBERS retreat, and maybe I’ll callback to it in future posts of mine. But for now, I’d much rather have my other brothers tell you themselves.

For the next couple weeks, stay tuned for more stories from more voices in our community. Some old, some new. I’m hopeful it will be the most diverse collection of blogs we’ve ever assembled from a retreat.

I’m excited to read them myself! I hope you get more of a sense of our blessed time together. And I hope you join us next year! Apparently it’s what we do now?

What’s been your favorite moment from a YOBBERS retreat? What are some other meaningful retreat experiences you’ve shared with believers?

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