We recently held our community’s annual camp retreat, our fifth YOBBERS retreat dating back to 2018. Something of a mini-milestone! We celebrated with a photo booth and a giant prop table loaded with items like floppy hats, wigs, boas, and a paperback copy of Wild at Heart. We also set up some nostalgic tables around the room, adorned with photographs from prior retreats and a memory wall for our attendees to write and pin some of their favorite retreat stories.

After our first retreat five years ago, I don’t know that I’d have said with complete confidence we’d make it to five retreats. Not because the first retreat was a disaster or anything, but because these events take a lot of work to put together. They require a lot of help.

Truthfully, I didn’t know if the help would still be there beyond another retreat or two; thankfully, here we are five retreats later. I’m grateful these weekends mean so much to so many, that others will gladly pitch in their time and even extra funds for others to attend.

I’m touched beyond words by the group effort our retreat has become, whether someone has a formal leadership role or not.

Last year’s retreat was probably the hardest on me with travel and other logistical snafus at the start, including less than ideal weather. I didn’t spiritually or emotionally prepare well for that weekend, and though God still did God-things during that fourth retreat, I wondered then how I might better prepare and communicate for the fifth one next year.

Indeed, I did find logistical and spiritual equilibrium at the retreat this year. Emotionally, though, it was another tough weekend for me, at least for one reason beyond my control.

Midway through the weekend, I received word that my uncle’s already declining health had taken a hard turn, and that he only had a day or two left to live. He passed the day after our retreat, and I’m grateful I did get to see him and say goodbye.

For a few hours on Saturday, though, I wondered if I should just leave the retreat altogether. After all, after five times, wouldn’t the weekend run just fine without me?

On the one hand, how true and wonderful that I believe the retreat would have continued without me! Our leadership team is top-notch, and they love our community so well. They’re also a diverse lot, gifted in all the ways needed to run an event for fifty people: they can welcome and empathize and organize and sing and announce things, and I know they’d not just run the retreat without me, they’d run it fantastically.

And I’ll be honest, it’s bizarrely affirming and deflating all at once knowing our retreat could survive, even thrive without me.

I cofounded this community in 2015 and have been leading it from the start. I’ve put a ton of time and heart into this place for the last eight years. A large part of me loves, often needs, the control; YOB has become my identity in many ways. And yet I feel the compunction to let go and let others lead, too.

I never want this place to be Your Other Brothers presented by Thomas Mark Zuniga. I am sorry whenever this community (including the blog, the podcast, retreats, Zoom calls, everything) comes across that way. On the contrary, I deeply yearn for others to join me in this effort; with that yearning, though, also comes the need to let go.

This retreat, more than any other, I delegated tasks and roles more than I ever have. And while I certainly noticed all the times I would have said or done something differently, I felt better able to let go of that need for control from years past — control that previously left me drained rather than replenished by a retreat. How ironic and sad.

Was it a perfectly run weekend? Not at all. But I contributed to the imperfection just as much as anyone else did — and after five years of retreats, I’ve learned that hardly anybody notices or cares about the hiccups.

It’s challenging herding fifty humans of all ages and physical capacities around a camp for three days. What matters isn’t that we’re efficient; it’s that we’re together.

BUT ALSO, I do believe we were actually so efficient this weekend. By far our most efficient flow of a weekend in five years! Go team.

“So, Tom, are you able to enjoy yourself too?” I often hear at these retreats.

I always tell my fellow attendees that “my” retreat doesn’t really start until Saturday afternoon, once we get past Friday’s setup circus. But this year my fellow leaders helped me enjoy my Friday more than any other retreat’s first day. With less logistics to worry about, I felt more like an attendee that day and all weekend long, just like everyone else.

I’m an other brother, too, as one of my retreat recaps of yesteryear goes.

I never want to forget that simple, perhaps obvious, but also uber-complicating sentiment. I appreciate my fellow YOBBERS for checking in on me throughout the weekend, especially after news of my dear uncle broke.

It was hard to open up at first.

This retreat gave me a face-to-face (-to-face-to-face-times-fifty) hard look in the mirror as I recognized that I’ve delved into a lonelier place with YOB this year. I don’t feel nearly as connected with the community today compared to years (and retreats) past, and I know a large part of this comes from my conscious pursuit of greater connection locally, apart from YOB.

Where I spend my time.

Where I unveil my vulnerability.

With several of my cofounders and other dear friends leaving YOB through the years, I’ve found it more necessary to find stronger relational balance between the virtual and the local, the queer and the straight.

Despite all the incredible people in our online community, I’ve recognized my need for more men in my city — queer and straight — on whom I can depend. This has been a sobering searching process because, once again, YOB has become such a pillar of my identity.

If I’m no longer close or as intentional with a large lot of our YOB community, who even am I??

The more I commit time to my church and localized groups and ministry, the less I find myself pouring into YOB relationships. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision; often it’s not. I still run our weekly community Zoom calls and greatly enjoy those times together! But beyond that . . . I feel dry within YOB.

I find myself only able to catch up on our community’s Discord postings a couple times a week; can only respond to texts once a day; can’t really use other social media or communication apps at all.

It’s confusing, because the Internet was my savior once upon a time, introducing me to the very concept of you are not alone. But these days the Internet reminds me how alone I am, or how alone I’m prone to be.

Maybe I’m coming to an obvious realization all these years later. But I need to depend more on someone who lives ten minutes away rather than ten taps or clicks away.

I wish my relational energies were as effusive as some of these guys at our retreat. I’m truly jealous of the love they have to give! I feel as if I only have a defined amount of sand in my relational hourglass, having taken many grains from YOB this year as I redeposit them into my church along with not one, not two, but three men’s groups where I live.

I’m proud of myself for taking these local community steps. I’m hopeful for greater front-line support in the months and years ahead. After nearly eight years of living in the Blue Ridge, I’m gaining some true relational traction with men here. This is good. This is needed.

Ah, but then the retreat.

It was hard not to let the comparison trap hit me this year; it hit me harder than any other. Confronted by numerous, repeated images of long hugs, of audible laughter and synergy in the men around me while I looked on or turned away.

I remained steadfast, affirmed by my decision to redirect more of my energies locally. And yet I felt the cost that weekend. To that end, the 2023 retreat didn’t feel like the 2018 retreat.

But I think that’s okay.

I hope that’s okay.

I’m sure the 2024 retreat will feel even more different from 2023’s.

This retreat still provided me with many sweet reunions and first meetings. It wasn’t just all sad all weekend as I looked around the room at guys who have grown close and closer through the years.

Regardless where I fit into this community moving forward, it will always be a special, loyal bunch. I love these guys.

I was placed on the Integrity Tribe this weekend, and part of my ongoing integrity within YOB is determining how to show up in this community as both a leader and a participant; as someone who is the same on Zoom calls as he is at a coffee shop in Asheville as he is alone in his bedroom.

I’m still figuring out this balancing act, learning where my relational sand is indeed finite and also where it’s worth pushing myself to give of myself — and also receive from others.

I’ll confess it was difficult first sharing with other attendees that my uncle was dying. My first reaction upon hearing the news was not to share it with anyone.

Just pretend everything’s fine, I’m not affected, I’m strong. I’m in control.

Relinquishing control is scary. But it’s becoming more and more necessary, inside YOB and out. It felt so good to let my fellow community members in and feel their support and love all weekend.

Thank you, brothers.

I hope our fifty attendees took something away from our weekend together: a new charge, a new conviction, a new way of doing things back home. And I do count myself among the fifty.

I look forward to sharing more of our community’s retreat experiences on this blog! They’re a beautiful bunch of men, and I can’t wait for you read their stories this month.

Did you attend this year’s YOBBERS retreat? What did you take away from our weekend together? Do you also struggle with connecting virtually versus locally with other people, and how do you manage this balance?

About the Author

  • Leadership can be isolating, and I imagine that feeling is exacerbated if you’re an Enneagram Four. I saw how much the guys on the retreat love and respect you, though, Tom. Any group that I was in would have loved to have had you join us in whatever we were doing.

    I also think it’s great that you’re getting to know more men in your hometown. In-person interactions allow for an ongoing connectedness that’s of a different order even than good on-line relationships.

    • Aw thank you, Mike. I really do love this community and appreciate all the support through the years. It’s a balance of still leaning into that support but also learning to find other support in my life. There’s always more balance to learn in this life.

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