After nearly two hours, the gathering joined forces...hundreds of men were standing about, introducing themselves to each other, talking about Wild at Heart, sharing experiences about how they found John's book, and what they were looking forward to from God in the journey ahead. At one point, these two young college-aged young women approached me and asked, "What are all you guys doing here?" She was an activist for Amnesty International, so for the next few minutes I shared the story of Ransomed Heart Ministries with her and why we had all gathered together for the Boot Camp. She was young, very beautiful, wide eyed, and amazed that such a book existed for men.
How do you feed 452 hungry men? With the absolutely military precision staff of the Crooked Creek Ranch's dining hall, the Bull Moose Lodge! Most of the wait staff are young teens in for the weekend on a volunteer basis. And with a hall full of hungry men, this group wasted no time in bringing out everything. All meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) were served family-style, with each table getting everything they needed. Throughout the entire Boot Camp experience, I never witnessed a lack of service from these young men and women. They were outstanding!! The food at Crooked Creek was awesome, delicious, well balanced and buoyed by the amazing attention given to us at every meal.
All of the sessions were held in the Avalanche Lodge building. Inside was an amphitheatre-style seating area, at the bottom of which sat a lighted stage. In one corner of the stage sat a sword rack, complete with five various types of battle swords. The only other accouterments to the stage area were a small wooden stool and a portable metal podium.
A question was asked: How different is the life I'm living from the life I want to live? The intent behind the question was to examine the freedom I have in God...and the challenges of being authentic in my masculinity, not some "nice boy" the church would have me to be or "cartoonish" in the way the world depicts what a man should look like.
Friday - Afternoon Session
- I'm not worthy of acceptance or love.
- I'm not powerful to fight...anyone, anything, anywhere.
- I'm an addict. Always was, always will be.
- I'm a pornographer.
- I'm totally irresponsible with money.
- I'm not a good friend.
- I'm not a good man.
- I'm an unemployed lazy bum.
- My dreams don't matter.
- I'm better, smarter, etc. than everyone.
- I'll never matter.
- I'll always be alone, without love.
- I'm less than, I'm apart from.
- I'm unloved by You, God.
In the room, the presence of God was felt as John and his team led the 452 men present into deep and powerful prayer -- prayer that asked God to come in at our invitation and help us break the fresh agreements and to give us discernment to recognize the historic agreements in our lives.
There filled my heart the echo of tears, men surrounding me in prayer, in power, the presence of the Father, coming in as invited to heal, to place His authority upon our prayers, to break the agreements that His men have made in the past, in the now. The silent and spoken words of prayer surrounded me, filled my ears, blessed my heart. It was difficult to step into, but I knew that God Himself was present among us in the Spirit, working, fighting, at war with us, before us, behind us, around us.
The Mission for Me
And so the session moved into Mission -- God has a Mission for me...how do I find it?
I learned from opening my heart and mind to the Ransomed Heart team, listening to Bart Hansen unpack this part of the Wild at Heart message, that The Wound and the opposition of the Enemy will come against whatever desire I have or God intends inside my heart. Resignation will write a Small Story of Desire. And I don't want that...but questions were raised: "What have I done with my desire? Where has resignation killed my desire?"
I learned that risk is synonmous with adventure! Good and necessary risks toward the goal are required, and also part of the masculine initiation at the hand of God. It was refreshing to hear that there are levels of risk bringing adventure: casual, crucial, and critical...and what the Enemy doesn't want to hear and what God is shouting into my masculine heart is "I'm dangerous for good!!" Part of me laughed, along with other men -- realizing that some or most or all of our churches also don't want to hear that.
God invites me into the risk-taking adventures of life. "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better." (Ephesians 1:17)
And what about walking with God? (Note: John wrote a book last year entitled "Walking with God," one which invites me, all of us, to walk with Him, talk to Him, and listen for His answers, for they come. Really!) Desire, I heard from the team, will lead me to God's Mission for Me. My risk has to involve trust with God -- and I must invite God in to Father me, to initiate me, to walk with me! There are no shortcuts to the affirmation of the Father -- He will provide it, but I must be willing to stay with the questions and wait for His answers!
And as the morning session ended, we were given our leave with some more questions to take to God: "What makes me come alive? Where would You have me risk? How have You been a part of my desire?"
I had no way of knowing what was ahead, where He would ask me to go to begin this dialogue, to walk with Him, to hear His answers to my questions...
John and the RH team gave us hours to go off in covenant silence to contemplate our desire, and to seek God's face as to what He has for us in terms of Mission. So I headed off to a part of Fraser Valley I had peeked into on a walk early Saturday morning.
At dawn's early light I had discovered a trail head down on the landscape behind the outer edge of Crooked Creek Ranch, and when I had originally entered it, my heart began to race. "You 'effin idiot," the Enemy told me. "What if you run into a bear out here? What are you going to fight him with, your intellect? Your savvy? Your New York street sense? Nice going, ____head. Turn around. Go back to Mommy. Go back to safety, what you think you know."
As the journey progressed on that morning walk, I pushed aside that voice and invited God in. And what I heard was clear: "Come, follow Me. Listen to me. That's it, keep walking. Keep your eyes on Me. And breathe, Johnny...keep breathing!!" I finished that walk before breakfast further into the woods leading along the trail going up into the mountains, at a plateau well above Crooked Creek, which twisted and turned and churned with snow melt water far below me. At one point I stopped and asked God, "OK, now where to?" There was no answer, so I went back to the Ranch, to eat breakfast, and to enter into the morning session.
So, as I left with those questions posed by Bart, I asked God, "You want me to start where I left off?" And my feet seemed to float as my body moved back down the hillsides behind the Ranch and out towards the trail head, walking into the forest with confidence, scoping the terrain, not caring that a light rain was falling. I was dressed comfortably for the elements, and accepted the risks of the adventure that was ahead.
And so I walked, hiked, climbed, and followed God higher and higher up. At one point, I heard the call of geese in the air, and looked up to try and spot them. God laughed and spoke: "We're pretty high up here, Johnny. Look down." And so I did -- I had climbed so high up the mountain that the geese were flying at elevations below where I was standing, and what I thought was mist was really lower flying clouds. Fortunately, we had been instructed to hydrate well before our journey out to Colorado; I was well hydrated. The slopes were covered with wild sagebrush, and I would stop every once and a while and pull great handfulls of the wet and aromatic leaves off, rub them in my hands, and inhale the pungent and invigorating smell of the resin into my nostrils. It would clear my head at the altitude (well above 9,000 feet and approaching 10K) that I must have been at.
Parts of the trail, in the rain, were dangerous. Footing was possible on some locales only by decision and choice. A tumble to the left, in some areas, meant certain injury, possibly death from such a fall. And all around me was beauty, majesty, God Himself walking me through what must be a simple brushstroke of His creation, and talking to me deeply in my heart.
I could hear my heart alive for Him...for truth, for purpose, for Mission. On that mountaintop, He altered my Mission: My Mission is to manifest the glory of God by going to war for the hearts of men!! I could see the risks He was asking me to take...to return to Louisville, to keep pressing on with the Wild at Heart message, to keep fighting in the men's ministry of a dying church, to stay sharp and focused as an initiated man in The ManKind Project™, a non-profit men's work organization I'm affiliated with and was initiated into back in 1996 and had returned to after a 6-year absence after reading John's book. And in the desire to not want to leave that mountain in the Rockies, but to keep climbing, to keep searching, to keep exploring, to keep discovering, to keep hunting for my heart and His face, I knew that in turning around and making the trek back to Crooked Creek Ranch, back to the sessions, and back to the men who were with me, I was being shown such a magnificient picture of how God has been the Author, the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Redeemer of my desire, His desire within me, and the heart He created and rescued and ransomed!!
With both joy and such a tender bittersweetness, I turned from the mountaintop and headed back down into the valley, a part of my transfigured.
Saturday - Afternoon Session
This wasn't going to be enjoyable -- it was time to talk about The Beauty and how a desire of a man's heart is to rescue her. "Perfect, you 'effin loser," the Enemy said as I entered the Avalanche Lodge, exhausted from the hiking trek, "you have no woman in your life. The only woman who will have you are those two-dimensional harlots you lust over on the Internet. You are such a man, aren't you? Listen close, loser -- you might pick up some more pointers about the man you'll never be. Hah!"
And so I gave myself to prayer and focus. John began talking about how Adam chose Eve over God...and how that if a man isn't intimate with God, The Beauty will be looked to for validation.
And there is danger in taking that trail. The danger in taking The Question ("Do I really have what it takes to be a man?") to The Beauty, to Eve, to the woman in our life, is that the power cuts both ways...a woman can validate (if I'm looking to her for an answer) or else "fail me" on the report card of how I shape up as a man. And the validation is crippling if I don't receive it -- and addictive if I do get it.
Eldredge offered a warning, a danger sign: Don't take The Wounded Heart to the woman. Like Adam, I surrender something of my strength as a man when I go to The Beauty for healing. "Ah ha," I thought, silently taunting Satan, "that's why I go to porn, to masturbation, isn't it. You lying piece of ____!
And, once again, it was time to invite the presence of the Lord into our midst for the power of prayer, and to go to war for our individual hearts that He wants to use for His glory. It was a time to pray for RESTORATION...
- I must take the integrity of my sexuality back -- I must turn from all temptation.
- I must ask for forgiveness -- I must choose to present my body and sexuality, my mind and my imagination to God.
- I must ask for God's cleansing of all of me -- I must long to bring it under the authority of Christ, and renounce all of the immorality I have chosen in the past.
- I must break the agreements made -- I must honor God by asking Him to reveal them and invite Him in to break all of them.
And so what does a woman want, what are the desires of her heart? A man to fight for her, to be a partner in her Battles. She desires a man that will sweep her up into Adventures, not just leave her behind as he goes off to live out his...she desires to be an equal in them, to be a reason for them. And, in her beauty, her mystery, her creation, her sexuality, she desires to be revealed, delighted in, seen, unveiled, loved. As a man, God is initiating me and inviting me to offer Eve my strength, to be tender with her Wounded Heart, and to be absolutely fierce against her Enemy.
So, before dinner, and with time before our evening session, another question: "As a single man, what kind of man do I want to be?"
A Dude Flick
Crooked Creek rocks! For Saturday night, John and his team wanted to debrief, take some down time, spend it with each other, and give us men...452 strong...the opportunity to kick back, throw down some popcorn and soda, and enjoy a dude flick...Kingdom of Heaven, starring Orlando Bloom and Liam Neeson.
I was exhausted from two hikes that day. I thought "Well, maybe not." The Enemy said, "That's right, go back to the lodge. Crawl into bed. Hide." So I laughed at his lies, and went out, got my popcorn and soda (the Ranch staff had popped over 500 boxes of popcorn for us and put out all these bottles of Coke products to wash it down with), and took my seat to enjoy a movie I'd never seen before.
The messages inside Kingdom of Heaven spoke to all that John's message in Wild at Heart seemed to resonate with the men...a Battle to fight, an Adventure to live, and a Beauty to rescue. Wrap it all up with a story of redemption and salvation, and spiritual warfare, and the glory of God in His majesty and purpose. What little breath I thought I had after a long day was taken away in the joy of watching a movie with so many men of God surrounding me.
I went back to Timberwolf Lodge...joyously tired, gloriously open to God, warmly engaged with as much as I could encounter with so many other men on the same path...and not wanting the dawn to come because I knew it meant the road to the end of Boot Camp.
Sunday - Morning Session
"Now what?" John Eldredge asked us. "Then what?"
We had spent some time--on both Saturday and now again on Sunday morning -- singing praise and worship songs. No, not from the Baptist Hymnal, but powerful and contemporary praise and worship songs that were just as beautiful, just as meaningful, and opening me up to an outpouring of song that my lips offered up in praise to Him!
And then the session turned to Fathering, to initiation...and my heart was alive and so in tune to Him!
I find that there is such a deep desire and craving for a Father in my life, for my initiation as a man -- even at the age of 46 -- to continue, to deepen, to greatly impact me and my walk with the Lord. So I was asked another question: "Where do I need fathering right now in my life?"
- I need a father who will be my teacher.
- I need a father who will show me how to take my place in battle, to train me as a warrior.
- I need a father who will give me affirmation in my overcoming all the temptations that come against me.
- I need a father who will love me.
- I need a father who will initiate me into leadership, who will show me how to guide others.
- I need a father who is going to be present, open, emotionally authentic, and someone who will go on adventures with me.
I didn't want to recognize the sadness on the horizon of leaving later that day, but I also had the deep realization that Jesus is reconciling me to the heart of His Father, my Father. Even in a deep place of question...Will I ever be shown The Beauty to rescue?...I had to realize that I will go to the Father for my answer.
And the Father will train me...The Question is most often answered through training scenarios. And the training for war comes in the training with weapons...and a Warrior for Christ has the full armor, including the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
"I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters," says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:18)
"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ther is one body and one Spirit -- just as your were called to one hope, when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through alll and in all." (Ephesians 4:1-6)
"...because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'" (Romans 8:14-15)
"Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir." (Galatians 4:6-7)
"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you..." Jesus replied, "If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." (John 14:18, 23)
Of all my sons, you are the one I love the most -- and I missed so many opportunities to tell you this, to show you this, and to teach you how to love yourself and others in return.I am so proud of you, son -- for who you are, for not giving up altogether, for fighting your way back. I didn't know how to be there for you -- and I don't want to be that man anymore."
Before we left for more covenant silence time with God, I wrote down this brief poem:
Broken so deeply / healed so strongly. A father lost a son / a son has found his Father. Jagged or smooth / my heart is Yours, God. Shape it as You desire...
My Letter to God
Before we were to meet in our final session, I spent some time on the hillsides behind the Avalanche Lodge, looking for stones to bring back to my Band of Brothers in Louisville as touchstones of my journey to Boot Camp -- and I spent some time writing another letter to my Father, to God:
All of this is so familiar, and yet so foreign. Why do you love me? That's my question to You -- now how, but why? Why me, Father? Will You show me why? Will You be my Father, the one I always wanted, the one I never had, the one I really need? Will you initiate me as Your son?
So many questions. Where are all the answers, Father? Show me, teach me, love me...I do not know how to forgive. O Father, unharden my heart -- towards me, towards You, and towards others. Where have You been? And why has it taken so long? In every way, I need my question -- The Question -- answered by Your Fathering. Speak to me, O Father...
In the silence, in the storm. In my heart, in Your words. With strength and honor. With fierce love, with courage. With truth, with grace. As my Father, to Your son..."
The Final Debrief
This part I keep for myself. Bascially, it felt as if John and the RH Team were giving us the marching orders to go back to the front lines...and I never felt such an honor, such a deep masculinity, such a call to arms for my heart, such a level of genuine wisdom and discernment. It felt like a man of experience, a father, trying to give his son, full of inexperience, something to hold on to when he went off on his own to discover his own heart, his own place in the world, the place of strength in a sea of being on his own. But I'm not alone!
And, as I've experienced post-Boot Camp, such good advice...from one man to another!
The time since Boot Camp has been fraught with Battle and spiritual warfare unlike any I've experienced in my 4 year walk with the Lord. But my heart has not been taken out, I stand in strength and honor, and I stand firm in the truth of what God has done, is doing, and is calling me forth to accomplish for His glory:
- I have called together my own Band of Brothers...following up on our 9-week book study of Wild at Heart, we now venture forth through the rest of this year, and will be meeting regularly to deepen our fellowship, discover the purpose of mission in our individual and group lives, and live out The Battles we fight, The Adventures we live, and The Beauty we rescue (for more information on John Eldredge, the Ransomed Heart™ Ministries, and the Wild at Heart Boot Camp™ to be held at Crooked Creek Ranch in Fraser, CO from November 12-15, 2009, see the link at the end of this entry).
- I continue with The ManKind Project™, meeting with initiated men once a week, stepping up into the community of men as we do our work, as we press on to fight for our hearts and the hearts of other men, and offer the initiatory journey to any man seeking it. I intend on stepping up to join the Staff of our next New Warrior Training Adventure™, to be held in Bedford, IN by the MKP KY Community on October 23-25, 2009 (for more information on MKP, see the link at the end of this entry).
- I continue to stay connected to M-Power™, the men's ministry at my local church in Louisville, KY -- Walnut Street Baptist Church (WSBC). Our men's ministry, like the church in general, faces many battles to awaken, empower, and ransom the hearts of the men in their congregations. As an initiated man, a man whose heart has been redeemed and ransomed, as a Warrior for Christ, and as a man with a Mission, I am poised to thrust myself back into The Battle within my own church, reinvigorated, rededicated, and realizing that God Himself leads me under His banner, for His glory.
The journey continues...strength and honor.
If you wish to contact me for comment or stategies to join in the battle for men's hearts:
For more information on John Eldredge and Ransomed Heart Ministries, visit them on the Web at:
PHOTO CREDITS: Johnny Fontaine, Don Baunsgard, Troy Reeves / 2009.