Dave S. from my last post, connected me to a group of guys called “Brothers in Christ” or BIC. This group of Portland businessmen of all ages was founded and led by a local lawyer named Don. The group met monthly for breakfast at a downtown club, hosted a Christmas lunch, and a yearly retreat. Dave wrote me a text about their upcoming retreat the first weekend of January 2020. I reached out to Don, met him at his home and he did an unusual thing. He told me his life story beginning with his parents, family, faith, hurts and challenges, and then said, “Tell me your story.”
Of all the first meetings with men I have had, this one was unique.
Not many guys shared their story. Most men dance around the subjects of work, family, and things they like to do before they reveal their hearts, their wounds or their challenges. Don began with the latter.
At BIC breakfasts, our employment was one subject we didn’t share. Don wanted to level the playing field and knew job titles hinder this. So, in Don’s story that first day, he didn’t mention his work life.
I unpacked my story for him. He listened and said I’d be welcome to come to the retreat. I then realized; it had been an interview.
The BIC retreat occurs at the Oregon coast at a Christian Conference Center. It was a wild step to go to this gathering of 200+ guys I didn’t know. I’d never been to a men’s retreat before, even with guys I really knew. And at this one I knew no one, other than Dave and his son-in-law, Jamie. Other than the stadium Promise Keeper events, it was my first men’s retreat.
The retreat had great worship with a band made up of BIC guys and a main speaker with a few one-hour sessions. But most unusual was what they call the Deep Dive. The organizers prayerfully broke us into small groups of five guys each. These groups then went off by themselves for an entire afternoon to listen as each man shared his life story with the others. Imagine heading off with guys you have never met to share deeply without small talk or multiple times together.
Our Deep Dive leader was Steve. We gathered in the lobby, shook hands and shared names, and then piled into Steve’s car to make our way to a restaurant on a golf course about 20 miles from the retreat. As we drove in the car, we each gave five-minute introductions of ourselves and included aspects of our work life. The man next to me in the back seat, Kevin, shared how he was transitioning out of the executive director position at a Christian Camp in Idyllwild, CA. Since we were in Oregon, this was surprising.
My ears perked up. “Which camp?” I asked Kevin.
“Idyllwild Pines,” he replied.
“No way,” I said. I was astounded. Here this guy was the executive director of a camp two of our dearest friends had worked at for years as a post-retirement gig and lived directly behind.
“Do you know Don and Lynn Hales? I believe they worked there for years?”
“Know them?” Kevin responded laughing. “Of course, I do! They are dear friends! How on earth do you know them?” He asked.
“Don and Lynn have been super important to our lives for 30 years. And they are our third daughter Susanna’s godparents.”
After I said this, a sense of awe settled upon the whole group. Here we were men placed together somewhat randomly, no one knowing of this connection. And God had placed Kevin and I in the same group, seated next to one another in the back of the car. After a moment of silence, several commented on God’s beautiful serendipity. Here God had woven fabric together to connect me to one of these guys through people who had a deep significance to my heart and life.
“God’s up to something,” Steve said, driving.
We continued with our introductions and arrived at the restaurant. They seated us in a booth. After our food arrived, we shared over our lunches and long into the afternoon (we left an extra tip). One man shared at a time, and the others listened and asked clarifying questions. Then, we prayed for each one. By the end of the afternoon, it was like we had always known one another. We decided we wanted to keep meeting post retreat. Steve said he would reach out and coordinate those times.
With the pandemic, the first of these quarterly gatherings went online and continued this way for multiple reasons until January 2022. In those months, we have gathered virtually, talked, had some intense conversations, shared prayer requests, prayed for one another, and grown closer.
Kevin and I had met twice during the pandemic, once at a coffee shop and once for lunch. He embraced my heart. He worked with me to promote my business. He heard me as I poured out the uncertainties about business development and the state of the world. He advised me and continuously encouraged me.
Last summer, when I reacted strongly to the vaccination requirement for the BIC 2022 retreat, (find that story here), it birthed a very honest conversation about the vaccination and how each of them had been led by Jesus regarding it. One man’s family had restricted access to his grandchildren without the vaccine, so he and his wife got it. Another, reading the signs of the times, realized he did not want to be restricted from travel, so got it. A third travels internationally as an evangelist and would have had to curtail this work without it, since this and other countries mandated it. So, he received the vaccination.
In one intensely memorable conversation regarding how the news had impacted me restricting the retreat to those with the vaccine, Steve said, “Brian, you have taken this too personally. It was not about you, at all. It was a decision that has impacted many others, but Don, the leader, did not make it against you. He made it because of his own viewpoint and what he believed kept people safe.” It was true. I took a deep breath. This gentle rebuke bonded me to Steve. Scripture says, “Iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another.” I had just been sharpened.
In January, 2022, we finally were able to meet in person. It was the richest reunion. It felt amazing to be physically with all these guys again. I had not realized how much I had missed them! To shake hands and hug was powerful!
As I look back, perhaps God took me to BIC in the first place to grant me this group of brothers. He had not taken me there to be part of the larger group, but to surround me with these five business executives and entrepreneurs. I walked a rocky trail to arrive at this realization. God’s ways and thoughts are not our own. We are blind to the future. Indeed, we walk backwards into it, as the Hebrews say. But God sees past, present and future and knows exactly what we need for the next steps of growth. These men have been God’s prescription in my life.