I remember Friday mornings during my senior year in high school, picking up David Clemenson at his home, and then driving to the Rustic Oak Restaurant a little ways down the hill from McDonalds on highway 76 just above downtown Branson.
The Rustic Oak Restaurant was part of The Rustic Oak Hotel. It had large windows where you could see the traffic on 76 making it’s way up the hill, as well as looking down the hill to downtown Branson and the lakefront. Around Christmastime you could see the Adoration Scene up on Mt. Branson clearly from the restaurant.
Dave and I joined Rich Crooker, our Young Life leader, Kris Davison and Mark Mathes for breakfast and Bible study. The five of us the previous summer with adult leader Suzie Wood Evans and the late Valerie Starnes traveled to Colorado for a week-long backpacking trip with Young Life called Wilderness Ranch. Our lives changed dramatically that week in the mountains as we talked around campfires about our lives, and heard stories about Jesus and his desire for our lives.
Coming back from Wilderness Ranch, Rich invited us fellas for a weekly breakfast and study at The Rustic Oak. I look back now 40 years from that year, and can say, while Wilderness Ranch was the most impactful week of my life, that following year of weekly gatherings with Rich and my friends was the most formative year of my life. In addition, I remember Thursday mornings with our Fellowship of Christian Athletes crew and Coach Hank Harmon meeting as well. Each week I got to start my morning off at The Rustic Oak with men who shared God’s Word with young men eager to learn and grow in their faith.
I can still smell the sweet fragrance of the cinnamon rolls when the waitress brought them out. These were no ordinary cinnamon rolls. They filled the entire plate! Our focus quickly left our Bible study and became focused on these sweet manna cakes from Heaven.
There was a deep warmth and joy each week sitting around the table with friends and adults who cared about us. The scent of refilled cups of coffee mingled with the cinnamon rolls still resonates all these years later. I couldn't articulate it back then, but today I am forever grateful to Rich Crooker and Hank Harmon taking time out of their lives each week to pour truth and love into the hearts of young men desperately needing it. I know I did.
Each time I drive by the place where the Rustic Oak stood, I smile. It was the place God changed me from the inside out.
What have been "Rustic Oaks" in your own life?