Published in the Rains County Leader on July 12, 2016:
Around this time last year, I wrote a column about a Christian women’s retreat I had attended. I returned late this past Sunday evening from the 2nd Annual Retreat of a group of women who now call themselves The White Chapel Girls. My original intention was to write about my trip there and back with three women who have become close friends. However, the joy of silly jokes that made us laugh until we cried and the freedom of being with friends you can trust with your deepest feelings can’t be described in a few words. That’s why I decided to re-run last year’s column with a few differences noted.
I just returned from four days at the F & H Goat Ranch, so named because of the fat and happy goats that populate the front pasture of the five-acre spread about twenty miles north of Kerrville. The owner, Julee White, retired from the Dallas rat race and social scene fifteen years ago so she could move closer to family and devote herself, in part, to making the dreams of her two nephews come true. When those dreams included goats for an FFA project, Aunt Julee provided both the goats and living space for them. I don’t think the project was very successful, but the goats didn’t mind. They stayed on at the ranch, invited some friends, and became – well – fat and happy.
The goats aren’t the only happy animals on the ranch. Their sizeable pen is shared with two white miniature donkeys and a Jesus donkey that has markings on his back in the shape of a cross. Two cats and two dogs have unlimited access to the house through a pet door into the laundry room, and a dog “cousin” belonging to Julee’s brother is a frequent guest – uninvited, but always welcome.
- This year all three dogs seemed to be permanent residents.
Feathered friends also find a warm reception at the F & H. I counted nine hummingbird feeders on the back wall of the house, and thirteen houses and feeders in trees in the back yard. There were more feeders on both sides of the house and in miscellaneous spots all over the property. I commented to Julee that her feed bill must be enormous, and she agreed.
- The feed bill has increase due to the interest of the local deer population. The first day we arrived, I stepped out on the back porch and startled two bucks – one six pointer and one eight pointer – who were grazing on the bird seed that had fallen to the ground under the feeders. Julee said the bucks help the seed to fall by lowering their heads under the feeders, and then raising up and knocking the seed – and sometimes the feeder – to the ground. Julee has replaced a number of feeders this year.
I was one of ten human guests from around the country who came together for a study called “Chains or Christ.” We were greeted with open arms as Julee opened her heart and her home, especially the kitchen. We were treated to delicious casseroles, salads, and homemade pastries for breakfast and dinner. The “light snacks” that were planned for lunch were spread out in the breakfast room – a sink-sized basket filled with a wide variety of granola bars, various other baskets and bowls filled with pretzels, trails mix, and nuts; fresh fruit; and more.
In addition to physical food, we were spiritually fed by Jodi Denning from New Mexico. She described her style of teaching as “offering a drink from a fire hose,” and she wasn’t exaggerating. The material covered during the long weekend was rapid fire and hard hitting, sometimes leaving us breathless but always ready for more.
- One of our friends from last year couldn’t make it due to schedule conflicts and illness. Otherwise, the guest list – and the menu – was the same. The study topic was “God’s Pursuing Grace.” The teaching style was slightly less intense but no less enlightening and satisfying.
All the participants are involved in some type of Christian ministry, and although many of us were strangers when we arrived, we quickly bonded as we worshipped, shared, laughed, and cried together. As I write this, I’m hoping I didn’t gain any weight from Julee’s hospitality, but I’m feeling fat and happy, regardless of what the scale says. I feel as if I received, as Luke says, “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.”
- The bonds of friendship we formed at the first retreated remain strong. The twelve months since our last meeting melted away as soon as the first hugs were given, and we resumed conversations and relationships exactly where we left off. Using text, email, and Facebook, we have established several ways to maintain contact between now and next year when we meet for the 3rd Annual White Chapel Girls Retreat.
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos