For the first time in nine years of attending men’s retreats with my Fresno church, I drove. In the past I’ve always caught a ride with another friend. Hume requires you to carry snow chains this time of year, and I don’t have them and didn’t want to buy them. No one I’ve ridden with in all those years has ever needed to put them on, so when Garry asked me if I would drive, I agreed, conditional on the weather forecast showing I wouldn’t need chains. And it didn’t, until Friday morning. By then, it was too late for us to make other plans, so I sucked it up and purchased chains. Chains are non-returnable, so I was almost hoping we’d have to use them to make the purchase worth it.
Actually, when I heard the forecast, I wanted to cancel. In the last few years, I have come to like cold weather less and found the heat more bearable. I can remember a few retreats (always the second weekend of November) where I’ve been absolutely miserable from the cold, but others that were warmer (t-shirt weather in the afternoons even) and had a wonderful time. But I knew I needed to go.
Garry and Jeff “Chops” showed up at my house at 2 p.m. I had originally said to meet at 3 p.m., but with snow in the forecast, I wanted to get up there well before dark when the temperatures would drop and the snowfall would increase. The car was loaded by 2:20, and we went to pick up chains, gas and food.
The roads were clear up until the entrance to Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park. Snowfall had started a few miles earlier, but not enough to consider the chains. At the gate, there is a longstanding question of whether it is required to pay to get into the park if you are just going to Hume, since that is a private camp exempt from the National Park. Different people have different answers. When Amy and I visited for the day last month, the guard still charged us, so we went ahead and purchased an annual pass since it was only a little more. It put my conscience at ease just to have it and not debate in the car whether it’s required or not.
This guard did require us to put chains on as we entered the park, so we dutifully pulled over. The story of this was a total God-thing, because after I put mine on (Garry and Chops didn’t know how, never having done it before), there was another group struggling with theirs, so we stepped in to offer help. It turns out that one of the key hooks was only shaped to 90 degrees instead of looped to actually hold another chain link. They were planning to attempt to trudge onward 30 miles with a chain set on only a single tire. I don’t know exactly the potential consequences of this, but I knew this was a bad idea. So I walked back over to the guard station to ask if he had blunt-nose pliers for us to attempt to bend a proper hook. The guard didn’t, but the group at the front of the line for the Park did. Well, they offered me needle-nose pliers, which I knew wouldn’t work, but took anyway because arguing with someone who can’t see the situation, regarding the necessary tools to complete a task often feels fruitless to me. They would be pulling over to retrieve their pliers, at which point I planned to point out the need for something else. They then pulled out a hammer and channel-lock pliers, and we deftly pounded out a hook. We got the car on their way, and then found out the truck of guys with the tools had made a severe wrong turn. They were heading to Hartland for their church’s men’s retreat, which means they should have taken a southward turn a long time ago. God brought both of our cars there to help out this other group that could have otherwise been stranded or injured.
As those cars left, my former roommate Daniel and his friend Marc had pulled up and started fiddling with their chains. They had never done this either, so I helped fasten theirs to get them on the road. It was an odd feeling to be the most experienced person at an automotive/mechanical skill in a group of five of my guy friends. It made me feel proud for having acquired the skill (6 years ago, no refresher since) and being able to re-perform it when needed.
After that, we finally took off, slowly, down the road. We had to stop a couple times to retighten ours, but it was otherwise an uneventful ride in. We arrived at 5:30 and went straight to dinner. Check-in could wait, we were hungry.
I love Hume food for men’s retreats. I always eat well here, it’s a week after the Fresno half marathon so I never feel guilty gorging myself, and as we say up here: calories don’t count over 4,000 feet. The salmon and beef were both good, but dessert was even better. Chocolate soup (not sauce, but a soup, Abby’s special creation up here), with cookies & cream ice cream, and a stick of biscotti. WOWOWOW!
At our first session this evening, we broke into our small groups for icebreaker competitions. I received the challenge of getting an Oreo from my forehead to my mouth sans hands. I figured there was no chance of success, but I tried, and on the second attempt, took third place of twelve teams.
Justin Greene is our speaker this weekend. He’s a pastor up in Salem, OR. Our theme this weekend is “From wrecked, wasted and wallowing…to Worship.” Justin is talking through parts of the book of Job. Tonight’s session was on Job’s assurance of his relationship with God. Not sinless, but that he kept “short accounts” with God, sacrificing regularly “just in case” he or one of his children sinned.
I think this will be a good weekend for me. Something that God’s been putting on my mind even before this retreat: Even if things never improve from a bad situation, would I still worship Him if it NEVER gets better?
I do think I have a pretty easy life. I may have some extreme work situations from time to time, but I really have comparatively little to complain about, and I probably complain much more than I have cause to do so. But if I were going through trial after trial, with no relief, would God be enough for me?
After the session was our annual Spades tournament. Mike “Moose” and I decided to be partners. Bad decision. Well, more bad cards than on the decision for our partnership. We just had lousy, non-complementary hands and lost 18 to 200-something to Jeff and Adam. But Mike and I called it a victory because it meant we were then free to go to bed. And since I had awoken at 3 a.m. to give my friend Greg a ride to the airport this morning and not gotten back to sleep, I was ready for bed.
I’m rooming with Chapman and Sam. There was some mix-up over the cabins we normally stay in. Those accommodations have always been pretty nice. Five sets of bunk beds to a cabin, linens provided, a heated cabin with its own bathroom of two showers and two stalls. But instead we were routed to Black Oak and Hickory lodges, which are very much like hotel rooms. One queen-size bed, one twin and one trundle with a full bathroom per room. Pretty much the nicest places they have up here.