by Jamie Buckingham
Every year, for the last 15 years, a group of us—dressed in old clothes, carrying shotguns, rifles and sleeping bags—have gathered in a little hunting cabin deep in the swamps of south Florida.
We come from different towns and states. Each year we add or subtract someone, but the core group has remained the same. The four days are spent in the woods southwest of Lake Okeechobee on the edge of the Florida Everglades—30 miles from the nearest phone.
Early mornings and late evenings, we wait in deer stands in trees or walk through the woods with our guns. Nights, we gather in the little cabin with its tin roof, nestled deep in a hammock—a thick stand of oak, cypress and palm trees surrounded by a slough.
This year was different from all the other years. Months earlier, when news spread that I might be dying of cancer, the men had prayed for me. When I arrived, there were genuine tears of thanksgiving. My old friends, you see, had wondered if my cot might be the one left vacant.
Something else was different. The thrill of the hunt was still there; but rather than taking life, my purpose had changed. I had come to get quiet—and talk to God. Martin Buber, the Jewish theologian, once described God as "wholly other." I used to think of Him that way. Distant. Apart, A Creator removed from His creation.
Last summer, though, I discovered Him as Abba. He's my Daddy, and He loves me far more than I loved my sons who accompanied me on the trip. The last morning of the hunt, the alarm went off at 4 a.m. Rather than going out. I opted to stay in camp alone. I snuggled into my sleeping bag and listened as the men dressed, checked their weapons and quietly made their way outside.
I heard someone start the big swamp buggy. Minutes later, men aboard, it rumbled out into the darkness, its oversized airplane tires squishing across the swamp, taking the men to their tree stands.
Just before dawn, I got up, dressed and walked outside. The brilliant stars provided light as I found a huge oak that formed a natural chapel. I sat on a low branch, my back against the rough bark of the trunk, watching as the sun resurrected the world. Few things on earth match the beauty of a Florida sunrise over the Everglades. read more