Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Better late than never...right???

I realize it's been 4 months since I've updated - that's a record, even for me! So, I figure it's better late than never. As always, there's a lot to catch you up on and so many pictures I'd like to share. I will do my best to get it all in here, but I apologize if I leave anyone or anything out!

My last update was in June, after our beach trip. Long, sunshiney summer days were upon us. We did a lot of playing outside. We spent several warm summer nights outside enjoying fireworks, campfires and outdoor movies. We held an awards banquet for the kids, to celebrate their accomplishments throughout the school year. It was a fun time to get dressed up and one of our visiting work teams blessed us by decorating the hall, preparing the delicious food and serving us. It was a lovely night. I got to take our boys to, what's known in these parts as a "Mudsling." It was my first ever event of it's kind and I'd have to say it was a fun time. It's basically big trucks speeding through a big ol' mud pit to see who can do it the fastest and without getting stuck. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I'd go again. We participated in a wonderful equine program, brought to us by the incredible Pam Umberger from Copper Crest Farms. She is really fantastic with the horses and the kids. We enjoyed participating in her program twice a week throughout the summer and continue to participate once a week. The kids love it and we have been blessed by this unique opportunity.

We hosted our annual "Friend-raiser" - JoyFest. It's a community outreach day, a chance to introduce ourselves and our campus to our friends and neighbors in the area. We had a very good turn out and lots of fun activities (helicopter rides, wagon rides, bounce houses, face painting, food vendors and musical entertainment.)

Our summer also included a (sort of) surprise visit from my parents, just in time for Evy's 5th birthday. As always, it was good to spend time with my parents. We've been so blessed that they've been able to travel down to see us several times since our move. I'm already counting down the days until their next visit! :-)

The boys wrapped up their summer with a very busy two weeks. The last week of July, the kids all attended their annual week of camp at The Wilds. There are a myriad of activities for them there, as well as opportunities to hear the Gospel message and interact with counselors that have a heart for the campers to know the Lord. During their week away, the staff participated in staff trainings, meetings and fellowship. We also had some good opportunity to rest and recharge, as well. Almost as soon as the boys returned from camp, the Fiddler's Convention started. This is an annual week-long festival that is held in our area in the beginning of August. It is a pretty big deal (we do, after all, live in the Appalachian mountains - heart of bluegrass country!) The kids work at the festival, selling programs and earning a bit of money in the process. (They enjoy it and I actually had a blast watching some of the dance competitions. I can't say bluegrass music is my thing, though.) And with that, their summer was over. School started up again on August 7 (yes, you read that correctly.) Life returned to the school schedule. Always busy! This summer also included some good bye's and hello's. We had three of our boys leave our home and two new boys join us. It is always an interesting time as we adjust to different ones coming and going.

Now, in the midst of that busy, fun summer several things happened for our family. On an exciting note, as I mentioned previously, Evy turned 5. (Where did the time go!?) And my family came to visit. But some other things occurred that were not so fun. Starting back in January, I developed some health issues. Over the next several months, I was in and out of the doctor and on and off several medications. In June things got worse and resulted in me having surgery in the beginning of July. It wasn't a big surgery and things turned out just fine in the end. But, like any time anyone has a health issue, it takes a toll on us. It was a stressful time for me. I would like to give God the glory in that because, remarkably, for one week - the week of the beach trip, my health issues were non-existent. If there was any week I could not afford to feel sub-par, it was that one. There is no reason for this, other than God. So, I can't leave that detail out. Shortly after that issue was resolved, Jason broke his foot playing basketball. A broken foot isn't a huge deal. Obviously he couldn't participate in some things but typically it wouldn't be a huge issue. However, it was his right foot, which meant no driving. For weeks. Did I mention it was smack in the middle of summer vacation? Those were a few more stressful weeks for us as we adjusted to a change in our roles within the cottage. In the midst of that, Jason ended up in the ER with kidney stones. When it rains, it pours, right? I remind you that all of these took place in the summer, when the kids are home with us all day, everyday. And these events don't wait to happen when you are "off duty." Thankfully, we have an understanding group of boys and a wonderfully supportive staff. This season reminded me how weak we are without an Almighty God. We were able to get through that time because of HIS strength, certainly not our own!

Not long after the boys started school, we packed up and headed to Maine for a week long vacation. It was SOOOOO refreshing to be back in the 207, even if it was all too short of a visit! We got to spend LOTS of time with my parents, which is exactly what we wanted. And we had a chance to see our friends/neighbors Riley & Tausha and their newest family member, Miles. We spent some time with our best friends, Kara & Ben and their growing brood of beautiful babies! We spent an evening with my "old" friends, Renee & Jason (and their little girl, Grace), who I've known since we were all in 8th grade. We visited some of my extended family and our church family. It was an absolutely perfect vacation. And I had several weeks of homesickness after we returned. I love, love LOVE what we do as house parents. I LOVE where God has us. But I DO miss my family and friends and the certain comforts of "home." I have a hundred pictures I'd love to share, but I'm going to limit myself to just one of my favorites:

When we got back to Virginia, we quickly settled back into the routines of life here. Not only were the boys settling into the school year, our own "grown up girl" began her kindergarten year. We have chosen to homeschool her and so far it is going well. It has it's ups and downs, like anything else in life and thee are lots of things we are both learning. I feel incredibly blessed to have this opportunity with her. It is an indescribable thrill to see when she "gets" something. I am enjoying this time with her, even on the challenging days. Speaking of education, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on bullying that I found extremely helpful and informative. I took a lot of information from it and have been using it in the cottage and with our own children. I really enjoy attending workshops or doing extra reading - anything to continue educating myself, really. Call me a nerd, but I am a lifelong student and I love it.

Our activities have slowed down some with the school year, but we still stay pretty busy. There's Boy Scouts, youth group, equine therapy and church. We've participated in the annual Tractor Parade. We visited SciWorks, a science museum in Winston-Salem, NC.

In the span of a week, one of our boys attended a homecoming dance with his girlfriend and celebrated his birthday - another year closer to adulthood.

We've been on a few church visits, to share the vision of Joy Ranch. And just this past week, we hosted our fall fundraiser - the BBQ Bash. It was an excellent night. The gym was beautifully decorated, the food was delicious, the photo booth was a blast and the turn out was more than expected. I hope this event continues to grow and we continue to gain new friends of the ministry. I would love to see more people be aware of Joy Ranch and what we do because it is such a vital ministry and not everyone knows what we do here. I, for one, can't talk enough about it! But you already know that! :-)

So there you have our summer (and beginning of fall) in a nutshell. The crisp autumn air has since moved in, and with it blown many of the beautiful golden leaves to the ground. Jason doesn't like to think about that white powder and bitter cold air that is soon to follow. For me, I love this fall time of year and all the sights, smells and activities that it brings. We've enjoyed a stroll through the corn maze, frolicking in the leaves, some tasty candy apples and some unique fall-themed snacks.

And I look forward to getting into the Christmas spirit with the boys (don't tell anyone, but I'm already playing Christmas music and Jason is already consuming the eggnog!) I do hope to blog again before Christmas is upon us, but obviously you know how I am! Maybe I need to be thinking about making some sort of blog-related New Years resolution! In the meantime, we always are thankful for your friendship, prayers, encouragement and support! Until next time...

Saturday, June 14, 2014


So, I’m not usually very good about keeping this blog updated, but TWO months is a record, even for me!! Sorry for those of you who have been on the edge of your seats! J As usual, there’s lots to catch you up on, but I’ll try to keep it brief!

April brought us another new resident who has settled in quite easily. Shortly after his arrival, my parents flew in for a nice long visit. We were able to celebrate Easter with them. And despite the fact that they were here for 10 days, it seemed like a whirlwind. I felt like I had less time to see them than I had at Christmas. They didn’t seem to mind and the girls sure loved every moment of having them here! And a little birdy told me they might be coming down to celebrate the 5th birthday of a certain little girl we know (who is growing up entirely too fast!) While my parents were here, we also celebrated the dedication of Bucky’s Backyard – our playground.

We had a cookout and a dedication ceremony, where we paid tribute to a former resident who has been a great friend to Joy Ranch over the years. My mom got to talk with his sister some and it was incredible to hear some of the stories from their time living here. It is an honor to be a part of such a legacy, to be continuing on the vision of the McHenry’s. I wish I could have known them. Oh, one last highlight from April – I participated in the American Red Cross Lifeguard Certification at one of the local rec centers. It was a very busy weekend, but I passed with flying colors and am now a certified lifeguard! Yay! J

In May, Jason and several other staff members participated in Leadercast – a leadership seminar, which he enjoyed and from which he has applied some techniques here in the home. We also made some treats for Teacher Appreciation Week to let the kids’ teachers know how much we appreciate them and want to support what they do. We attended an arts & crafts festival in Pilot Mtn. NC. Just as we got there and started walking down the main street, it started down pouring! We ducked for cover in the nearest shop and waited it out. But overall, we had a fun time and even got to indulge in some cotton candy! Jason and I had a three-day weekend and got to spend it in Asheville, NC, visiting some friends who were in town for a CEF International conference. We haven’t seen them in almost a year, so that was a very sweet time.

While we were in Asheville, we just had to stop by the Billy Graham Training Institute and the Biltmore Estates. WOW! If you’ve never been, you should go. Both were just beautiful in their own ways and such a contrast to each other. Pictures don’t do them justice (particularly the Biltmore.)

The following week, we enjoyed a staff outing to Charlotte, NC and got to have lunch all together as a staff, which is a rarity and was quite a treat. It is a blessing to work alongside these individuals who love the Lord, these kids and each other.

The end of May brought with it the end of the school year and good byes to two residents. A bittersweet time, to be sure. Every time one of the boys leaves, it is bittersweet. We are still missing both of them. The boys are not missing being in school, however. And to celebrate, we held a campus-wide Luau. We decorated Bucky’s Backyard with a Hawaiian look, served up some delicious food and grooved to some tropical music. I think everyone had a great time! No sooner was the luau over than it was time to clean and pack up for the beach trip. Every year, Joy Ranch kids (and staff) get to have a week in Myrtle Beach. Well, Garden City Beach, to be precise. Some years ago, the Garden City Chapel & Retreat was founded and one of their ministries was, and is, to provide children’s homes with a beach vacation. They have a beautiful spot and provide great hospitality. While we were there, we got to: go mini golfing and shopping; go to Ripley’s Aquarium; go to a water park; and go to the Carolina Opry (and obviously we spent a considerable amount of time at the beach!) It was a blast. I think my favorite part was just watching the kids have fun.

Some of them have never been to the beach, some have never had a chance to be kids, some have never been on vacation. My heart is full to overflowing just recalling their faces last week. I think of one boy in particular who has had to take care of himself for much of his life and has had very little chances to just let go and have fun…he’s normally very stoic and not very excitable. If you asked him today (or even last week) if the beach trip was fun, he’d shrug and say with a straight-face, “It was ok.” However, last week, every time I saw him his eyes were lit up and he was wearing an ear-to-ear grin. He would repeatedly come up to staff and want to show them something, like the picture he just took. And looking through the pictures was so neat because it allowed us to see the trip through his eyes. It was obvious he thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s moments like these that I am reminded why I so love what we do, and am reminded that God called us here for such a time as this. When the days are hard or long or just plain bad, these moments keep me going.

Summer is stretching before us, and while I don’t quite know what it will look like (and am a little nervous about keeping kids occupied!) I know that it will be crazy, because that’s just how we roll here. There are camps, jobs, work projects, movies, home visits, festivals, youth group, Boy Scouts, appointments, Joy Fest – not to mention new residents that will be coming and all the day-to-day stuff that needs to get done. I am looking forward to lazy days just being together without the ridged constraints of the school year schedule, of spontaneous water wars, of picnics at the river, of making s’mores around a campfire, of memory making. What do YOU do to keep the kiddos entertained and make summer memories? I’d love to hear your ideas and inspirations!

Until next time…(which hopefully won’t be two months from now!) J

For HIS Glory,


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

It Takes a Village

“It takes a village to raise a child” – a saying we've all heard and one that I’m coming to appreciate more and more as my girls grow up and as I interact with these guys. Parents obviously have the most vital role here on earth. But sometimes, kids need to hear other voices speaking Truth into their lives, too. I love to see how the kids interact with the different adults in their lives - it is a beautiful thing. And I see now more than ever, the importance of adult and child/teen interactions. I see how each of the staff at Joy Ranch works together in the life of a child (including my own) and how each one plays a valuable part. I see the importance of greeting kids/teens, taking time to know their names (in church for example.) It really makes a difference to them. They notice when they go somewhere and no one shakes their hand or makes an effort to know their name. Many teens might put up walls or act like they don’t care, but don’t believe it. They notice and they care. So, if you know any children or teens or if you see them in your church, please make a point to greet them. Don’t make excuses from pouring into their lives, even if it’s difficult. And I’ll even take this moment one step further to encourage you to consider foster care or adoption. It’s something that’s been a burden on my heart for a long time, but even more now. Another option is something called Safe Families. If you’ve never heard of it, please check them out: For my Mainers out there, you can check out the Safe Families Maine Facebook page to get connected with the newly launched resource in Southern Maine. Or, you can ask me how to get in touch with an area coordinator. For all you Virginians, be on the look-out for this resource coming soon! Please consider being a safe place for families in crisis. Well, I could probably do a whole blog post on the need for foster/adoptive/safe families and the merits of getting involved, but I won't. Perhaps another time. Just planting a seed for now!
If you can believe it, I actually had started a blog entry just a week or so after my last one. But then life happened and here I am - monthly update, as usual! :-) I want to ask all of you prayer warriors out there to keep our kids in prayer. The past few weeks have been filled with some big ups and downs (when haven't they?!) I wish I could tell you more...tell you some of the boys’ stories and situations. I know often times, those are the things that appeal to our emotions, that inspire us to get involved and remind us to pray. And some of the situations here would certainly invoke that in you. But for confidentiality reasons, there are things I can’t share. While we do have fun here (we get to go on outings and we have a lot of laughs) it’s not all a walk in the park. Many days over the last few weeks have found me in tears, to be quite honest. Ultimately, I know God holds each of the boys in His hands – He cares about them more than I ever could and He knows their hearts. But still, my heart is heavy for them. For some of them, life seems hopeless. I pray daily for them to see who God is and how deep and rich His love is for them and for their lives to be transformed by His goodness and grace. That is the only thing that matters, the only thing that can possibly give them hope. Will you please pray with us to that end?

Within the last few weeks we have: seen all 13 inches of the snow melt and enjoyed some 60 degree (and one 78 degree!) days; spent a day out in Winston-Salem, NC; said good bye to two residents and welcomed two more; and watched a couple of our boys struggle and wonder how to best help them. We've had some discouraging, heart-wrenching days, but that’s to be expected in life in general. Two of our boys attended WinterFest and God worked in a mighty way in their hearts over that weekend. The evidence of God doesn’t always look like we think it might, but there is no denying His handiwork. One of our boys said that he felt like his “heart was going to explode out of his chest.” It was great to hear them talk about their experience. Two other boys went to a lock in at our church and had a great time. I was expecting them to “crash and burn” after their all-nighter, but they surprised us and kept it together. We were glad they were able to go. We are blessed to attend a wonderful, Bible-believing church down here with a thriving children/youth program. Our girls have even started going to the children’s service on Sunday mornings and they love it (but rest assured, Buxtonites, you are irreplaceable!) We've gone on a couple of church visits and at the most recent one, Jason and I were asked to share a little bit about how we came to Joy Ranch and what life is like as house parents. I always enjoy that sort of thing and I learned that apparently, Jason does, too! He was quite a ham! And later, in the kitchen, some of the ladies said to me that he is "such a nut" and that life must be so fun with him. They were right. Being here has really grown Jason and me - finding out new things about each other and complementing each others strengths and weaknesses. We also went to see God's Not Dead with some of the boys. It was very well-done and the boys seemed to enjoy it. One of them especially - the same one whose heart felt like it was going to "explode" at WinterFest.And another one (who has previously shared some negative feelings about God and church) was actually recalling parts from it later that night in a conversation we had with him, so we know he took note of some things. Who knows when/how a seed will be planted? Looking back on these past few weeks, this little paragraph doesn't seem to cover all that went on. Some weeks are just a blur and I can't keep track of what day it is, but it really has been a wild ride lately. So, please keep praying for all of us at Joy Ranch - the boys, the girls and all the staff.

Oh, just a personal prayer request before I wrap this up…I will be doing a lifeguard training through Red Cross on April 4-6. I am SOOO nervous! I have been training and am a strong swimmer, but I’m still incredibly nervous. Once I get my certification, we will be able to do things and go places with the kids that we couldn’t without a lifeguard. I’m excited to do it, but definitely appreciate your prayers on this! Hopefully the next time I write, it will be to say I’m a lifeguard! 
Sorry to say, I don't have any new pictures to post this time. But I'll be sure to next time around. Thanks for sharing this journey with us! Please don’t be strangers – we’d love to hear from you, especially our family and friends back in Maine. We are grateful for each one of you that reads our blog and supports us and Joy Ranch! You are an incredible blessing! Until next time...
For His Glory,

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Am I Still In Maine?!

With the snow we just got dumped on us, it sure feels like we're back in Maine. I thought we moved South! More on the snow in a bit...

Well, here I am…once again, late. But this is probably the first time I’ve been able to sit and catch up the blog without bursting into tears. As you may know, my parents came for a visit over Christmas. We enjoyed their visit immensely, but the homesickness since their departure, combined with some of the usual stresses of the “job” were a little overwhelming for awhile. I think I’ve got it together now, so alas, I can update you on the last 6 weeks or so.

As usual, visits with loved ones go by much too quickly. We had three days off during my parents’ stay and, thanks to our amazing co-workers and supervisor, we even got Christmas Eve and Christmas day off to spend with them. We were able to spend Christmas with both mine and Jason’s family – the first time in all the years we’ve been together. That was a nice treat. We spent most of our time with them just around the Ranch or other local sites. Because of all the time they spent driving to and from Virginia, we didn’t want to have them in the car for most of their time here. As my dad is an Andy Griffith fan, we did spend a day in Mt. Airy (Mayberry) NC, which is only 30 minutes from us. Wouldn’t you know, the day we went, pretty much everything was closed. Sad day. It was still nice just being with family!
While they were here, they got to meet a few of the boys, but most of the boys were able to have home visits over the Christmas break. Perhaps next time they come they will get to meet all the boys. Part of what has helped the homesickness subside is knowing that they’ve already planned and booked their next trip! Let the countdown begin!

Things in the home have been busy as usual. We had one resident leave and are preparing for another one to arrive in about a week. This is our first experience welcoming a new resident and seeing how the dynamics change within the home, which they inevitably will. We’ve had basketball practices twice a week and games every weekend since two of our boys have joined a local rec league. I’ve been enjoying getting an education in basketball. What warms my heart the most is after the game, when the boys want to tell me all about the plays and what they did/didn’t do, as if I know exactly what they’re talking about. I usually don’t have a clue, so I’ll ask questions. What I love most is that they want to tell me about it, even though they know I don’t know much! But I’m learning and am starting to get really into the games. Another of our boys is in JROTC and again, I don’t have much clue what all the drills are or the PT they have to do, but I love that he likes to talk about it with us at the end of the day. I guess you could say the same about any of them and their hobbies/interests. I don’t understand a lot about them (and they know that, I think) but I try to listen and chat about it as best I can. I’m just glad they want to tell me about it. Any chance they want to talk about the things that interest them, I’m going to do my best to stop and listen and engage. The same is true for my girls. I want all of them to know that even if I don’t know what they’re talking about, if it interests them, it interests me, too. Our new favorite time of the day is bed time because we’ve started praying with them before they go to sleep. This usually gets more of a response from them than praise & prayer time after dinner each night. They like to chat and are willing to be a little more open about what they would like prayer for.

We’ve also had a lot of snow days around here. And unlike in Maine, it’s not because we have a lot of snow. In fact, as I write, there is none on the ground. The kids attended a grand total of 9 days out of the whole month of January! While this Yankee can’t seem to wrap her mind around how quickly they cancel school around here, I will say that winter weather is a completely different ball game. Because we’re in the mountains and the school the kids attend is a county school (and covers a large area) it can be snowing in one town and not in ours, so school is delayed or cancelled. And the roads aren’t great because they don’t have the tools we do up in Winter Wonderland. So, it can be pesky to drive. It’s been a unique winter, for sure. But I’m not complaining about the lack of “devil’s dandruff” as I recently heard it called. J Having them home for so many days at a time kept things interesting. It has provided many more opportunities for me to learn flexibility.

One weekend at the beginning of the month, we had the opportunity to visit Massanutten (a ski resort) with another couple here. We didn’t do a whole lot, but it was really nice to not only recharge, but also spend some time getting to know them better. We really are tremendously blessed to work alongside such great people. It was also amusing to me to go to a ski resort and only see snow on the ski trails. I’m used to the entire mountain being covered. Obviously the snow was man made, but it just gave me a chuckle to see little strips of snow on an otherwise bare mountain.

While we don’t have much snow here, over in West Virginia they have quite a bit. And we made the annual trek to WinterPlace for a day of snow tubing. It snowed the entire day and it was cold, but the kids had a blast. I never did make it down the hill, but our girls enjoyed eating the white stuff, as you can see.

Shortly after our snow tubing adventure, the stomach flu hit our family. Thankfully Jason and I took the brunt of it. Our littlest got sick once, but was fine after that. And it didn’t spread to the rest of the house. It was a miserable 24 hours. I’ve never seen Jason that sick in all the years we’ve been together. I do not wish to repeat that again anytime soon! Since then we’ve continued to be busy. Jason took the boys bowling last weekend. Evy, who is turning into a Daddy’s Girl more and more every day, wanted to tag along, too. She was a good sport and did a good job on their late night adventure. She asks to tag along with him a lot these days, something that my heart finds bittersweet. I love that she loves her daddy, but I do miss her wanting to stick with me. More than anything, I am so grateful she (and Na-Na) have the opportunity to be with their daddy so much. It is such a change from the way life was in Maine and the girls are so much happier in that regard.

Something new we’ve started is having lunch with them at school. It gives us a chance to get some time with them individually and make connections at the school. We just started it last week, so we’ve only had a chance to take one of the boys, but it’s definitely something we want to continue. It’s nothing big or fancy, just another chance to build relationships. Of course, the only way we’ll get to keep doing that is if the weather cooperates and there is school.

As I write this, we are snowed in from the big Blizzard of 2014. We got over a foot of snow - not sure of the official total. The kids got out of school early yesterday and have today off. From the looks of it, they won’t be going back until spring! J We had a blast having a snowball fight today and running through the snow. Here's some evidence of our fun:

The girls and I put a couple bowls on the back deck to catch the snow and we made snow ice cream last night. That’s always a treat! One which, oddly enough, I learned from my Southern husband!

And speaking of my Southern husband, we just celebrated 6 years of “togetherness” (not marriage.) Six years ago, our adventure began at a similar ministry in Vermont. I never would have guessed at the ups and downs God would bring us though (with many more to come, I’m sure!) but I am so grateful for the one He gave me to walk beside me on this incredible journey. I am beyond blessed.

We appreciate all of you that take the time to read this rambling account of our life here. I wish I could update more often or be better at remembering all the funny, crazy details. But know that we appreciate you, your interest, your prayers and your encouragement! You are a blessing to our family and to the boys!

For His Glory,

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Silent Night

It's hard to believe Christmas has come and gone. With the busy-ness of the season, I'm yet again much later in posting than I wanted to be, but better late than never, right? :-)

December started off with decorating the cottages - inside and out. For the record, boys do not think decorating is a fun activity.
It took a little prompting, but we got our cottage looking festive. One of the boys took on the majority of the outside project, coming up with a design and hanging the lights. He did an excellent job. We enjoyed a trip to a local light display, Forster Falls Festival of Lights. We had a wagon ride around the park and sipped some hot cocoa and just enjoyed being together. It was a fun night!

We got to go to a local tree farm and cut down our own tree, which is a first for me. Here's a shot of our group "claiming" our tree:

Funny how you can find the perfect tree outside, but when you bring it in, it's not quite so perfect. Ours ended up being too tall and probably a bit too wide. And after spending a great deal of time getting it into the tree stand and putting the lights and decorations on it, it fell over. One of the boys came to the rescue and it's been standing tall since, albeit a bit crooked.

Elianna also celebrated her third (THIRD!!) birthday on December 10! Where did that three years go?! She's no longer a baby...she's so animated and funny. She keeps the boys (and us) laughing, for sure. We celebrated her day by going to the children's museum in Winston-Salem, NC and then walking around Old Salem Village. We came home for dinner, cupcakes and presents. It was a fun way to celebrate our little "Na-Na" as we affectionately call her.

We also experienced our first "storm" here. It really wasn't much, but there was some ice involved so we had to stay home from church. In lieu of a sermon from our pastor, we watched Billy Graham's My Hope America. The boys seemed to enjoy it and didn't make a sound for most of it, which is a minor miracle for them because they talk through most movies. We had some good discussion about it afterward, too.

One funny story - We got to experience our first "intruder" here this month, as well. One of the boys came to our upstairs apartment door one evening while I was getting the girls ready for bed. He asked if I would bring Tonka (our dog) out so he could play with him. While I was getting the dog, the boy yelled "Hey, we have a bat!" I ran to the door and asked where. He pointed to this little black creature, clinging to the side of the fireplace (right next to our apartment door.) I screamed, ran into the apartment and slammed the door shut while the boys scrambled to see it and decide what to do with it. Jason came to the rescue and scooped it up (in his Batman hat, no less) and took it outside. He said it must have come because it knew Batman lived here. I don't care why the little bat came, I just don't want to see him again! Oh, and for the record, the bat did live.

Joy Ranch has some annual events around the holidays, one of them being a trip to Barter Theater in Abingdon. Normally, it's scheduled on the same day as a church visit, but because of the ice and having to stay put, we didn't get to go. They were able to reschedule the theater visit though, and we got to see a production of A Christmas Story. The boys seemed to enjoy it and even our girls sat through it, mesmerized. It made for some quotables around our house, like "You'll shoot yer eye out!" and "I have to go wee-wee!" I never was able to get a picture of the boys together, looking all daper. When I tried to take pictures, they all covered their faces.

The next annual event was the Live Nativity. I've never experienced one and from things I'd heard, I just thought it was some people standing in a stable, dressed like Mary & Joseph and you just walk by and look and them and walk on...But here, it's a drive-through event. And it ended up making the front page of the local paper - how cool is that? (I saved it for my keepsakes.) We have staff and residents at different stations, acting out the different parts. Jason was the prophet at the beginning, prophesying the birth of the coming Messiah. The next stop was the entrance to Jerusalem, where you were shaken down by guards and told to pay your taxes. Next came the shepherds, tending their flocks by night. This is followed by an angel choir, singing of the Savior's birth. After that, you're told by the innkeepers that there is no room in all of Bethlehem. And of course, the last stop is the lowly stable where Mary & Joseph proudly show you the newborn King.
It was a wonderful evening, and a great way to be reminded of the reason we celebrate this joyous time of year - because the God of the universe sent His own son to be born as a babe, live a perfect life, die the death we deserve and rise again. All this so that we may have life, and life abundant! It blows me away to think about it...

Another way we celebrate this special holiday is with some Christmas parties. We had a staff Christmas party the week before Christmas. We shared some delicious brunch food and enjoyed some rare time together just having fun. It can be a challenge to get to know the other staff because of our responsibilities within the homes, so when we do get together, it's a good time. We played a neat game which involved everyone bringing $5.00 gift cards...we picked pieces of paper which said things like "trade with someone in the room who likes to read" or "trade with the person you think has the highest IQ." It made for a lot of laughs and we all ended up with gift cards at the end. It was neat - a game I'd definitely play again. The kids also have a Christmas party. Several churches/organizations provide Christmas gifts for the kids and we gathered with them in our gym for some pizza and presents. They read the Christmas story to us and shared a few thoughts on Christmas, then let the kids open their gifts.
It was a lovely night and the kids, including our own two girls, received some great gifts.

And then, Christmas break was upon us. Some of our guys left on Friday night, some on Saturday, another on Monday and two more on Christmas Eve. As I write this, our cottage is empty and strangely quiet. I must admit, I'm not a fan of that. I miss our boys, but am so very glad they all have somewhere to spend Christmas. They will trickle in over the next week-10 days. It will be a strange week, but it's good to get to spend time with them on a more individual basis, too.

And on that, note, here is wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful start to 2014!

Friday, December 6, 2013

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Call me a nerd, but to me, there’s nothing quite like a good book! I could spend hours reading and typically, I have 2-5 books going at one time. And every so often, a book comes along that is worth sharing with others. Recently, an old friend of mine from Camp Good News wrote a book. He’s written a few now, but this time he opened it up to Facebook friends to read and review it and I jumped on it. Now, the deal was, I could get an un-edited copy to read and then I was supposed to give a little review around the time it came out…It was released Nov. 26, so 2 weeks later is still “around” that time, right?! Yes, as usual, I am late. But, better late than never…

Risky Gospel, by Owen Strachan, is chock full of the ingredients it takes to make a good book on Christian living: personal stories, biblical text, humor and applicability (did I just make up a word?) I’ll be honest, going into it I thought it might be over my head – a deep theology text, which is not my kind of reading. Even as a teenager, Owen was a deep-thinker. He’s well-educated, intelligent and articulate. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow, much less relate. But this book is for people of all walks of life and all stages of their journey with the Lord.

No matter who we are, life often feels very busy – sometimes overwhelming. We don’t want to settle for mediocre, but we do and for a hundred different reasons. And life gets hard. I think there’s a part of all of us that just wants things to be easy. But, as Owen points out, the Christian life wasn’t made to be an easy, put-your-head-down-and-get-through-the-day kind of life. We were made for more – so much more! But, that doesn’t mean life will be easy. In fact, many verses paint the opposite picture and Owen doesn’t try to hide that fact. “You follow God and you just might get asked to walk in the wilderness. For forty years.” (pg. 34) That sounds scary to some and causes us to hold back, it keeps us living in mediocre-land.  To step out of that and live out the risky Gospel, we have to first understand who God is and realize our identity as His child. In chapter 3, Owen does a phenomenal job of pointing out the need to understand who we are in Christ and he does so by pulling out Scripture to encourage us in embracing our identity. As we do that, we gain purpose and confidence. We begin to see that no matter our station in life, we can grow, we can bring glory to God. Once we understand our identity, Owen reminds us of the importance of building our faith and gives us practical ways to do that. Then he points out something most books seem to ignore: that we will fail. We will get frustrated with ourselves and our experiences. But the story doesn’t end there – we have hope because of this risky Gospel living in us. Too many authors today give us these ways to be better Christians and then when we don’t live up to it, we feel guilty, ashamed and drowning in despair. I love that Owen is honest about the human condition, his own included, and the redemption found in Jesus.

The next few chapters are spent showing us how we can bring glory to God in a variety of ways: by building a legacy, a vocation, a godly community, an evangelistic outreach and public witness. I loved that each of these chapters focused on the importance of these areas of our lives and give the reader practical ways to grow. Being encouraged to invest in your family and see spouses and children as great blessings is refreshing. Hearing that God cares more about your heart and your service than your title and paycheck is always encouraging, especially in a world so focused on the latter. And even in Christian circles, we chalk spiritual “success” up to how involved we are in ministry and whether it is vocational or not. While being in ministry is wonderful, it doesn’t necessarily determine how Christ-like one is. God has lots of us in lots of different places in life because that’s where He can use us best or grow us more like Him. And in a day and age of “church shopping” it’s good to be challenged to commit to a godly community. Many people today have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to church, usually because of a bad experience (or a bunch!) or people who have been hurt. But the reality is, we NEED each other – in the good AND the bad. That’s challenging to read, but oh so good, too! Owen gives great (and often overlooked) ideas for how to serve other believers. The same week I read that chapter, I had an opportunity to help out with something at our new church. I didn’t want to go. It was our night off, we go to a large church and I don’t know anyone…the excuses went on. But then God reminded me how much I need to be connected to a local body of believers. So, I went. And nothing huge happened, but it was an opportunity to serve and meet people. We need that, even when we think we don’t. Owen mentioned the story of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield in this chapter. If you’ve never heard of her or read her book, you should! But, that’s for another day…

Probably the most difficult chapters for me were the ones on evangelistic witness and public witness. Like many people, I’d rather keep my head down and be out of the spotlight. I don’t like to ruffle feathers AT. ALL. I try to be super sensitive about not offending people (I’m sure I offend people more than I think, but I do try not to!) And while we shouldn’t be out trying to offend people and make enemies, the reality is, the Gospel is offensive. People are going to get upset and relationships may be severed. And that’s where I struggle. And yet again, as is true throughout the rest of the book, Owen breaks it down to show us ways to step out in faith and obedience – makes it seem doable. And of course, it is because of the power of Christ in us. So, while I didn’t “like” these chapters, it wasn’t because anything Owen said was incorrect – it was because the truth hurts! And a book like this wouldn’t be good if it didn’t challenge you.

The book ends with a challenge to Christians to live out this risky Gospel, understanding that the risk is really minimal when we serve a great big God. From our earthly standpoint, it seems scary, but God knows all the days of our lives and what will bring Him the most glory. It may mean we face all sorts of trials, big and small. Only God knows. But, as Owen writes, “if we’re pursuing Christ wholeheartedly through a life of gospel risk, here’s the awesome truth: there really is no such thing as failure.” (pg. 215) There’s no “you’re doing it wrong.” And that does not sound risky at all. In fact, the thought is quite comforting.

So, even though I’ve written a novel of my own, there’s still a lot of good stuff left to explore. If you get a chance, pick up a copy. I’m pretty sure it’ll be under the tree this Christmas for some of my loved ones! J

Thursday, November 28, 2013

In ALL things, give thanks...

I would love to always write about the good stuff and say that life is always happy here, but I’d be lying. It’s no different than anyone else – some days are just HARD. Saturday was one of those days. I think we all must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed (though some beds are pushed up against the wall, so I’m not sure what that means.) I didn’t help anything by letting the girls stay up until 10 the night before (in the hopes that they would sleep in this morning, sleep-in morning.) And of course, they were up by 6:30 and not in the greatest of moods. So, I was already grumpy by the time the guys woke up and came out for breakfast. We had planned to take a trip to Winston-Salem, NC to visit Old Salem Village. But one thing after another kept delaying us. Saturday chores seemed to take half the day and then there were bad attitudes and issues to deal with and I just felt like everything was met with a fight – like everything I did was wrong. UGH! I hate those kinds of days. We ended up not going on our trip, which made everyone grumpy. Then, when we were trying to figure out what to do with our day, we got a phone call from a local lodge group saying they had food they wanted to donate. So I took my girls and a couple of the boys down to pick it up – and it was a TON! Although it wasn’t a big outing or anything, it was enough to break up the day (and break up the bad moods!) During the drive, one of my boys shared with me a little about life leading up to Joy Ranch and it brought things back into focus for me. It made me think less of myself and the things that I was choosing to be grumpy over. It made me thankful to be here, with these boys. When we got back, we all were in better spirits. I don’t know whether to attribute that to getting out of the house for a bit, or the fact that I brought back massive amounts of food to teenage boys…either way, it worked.

 At night, we do Praise & Prayer time after dinner. We keep a notebook and write down any praises and prayer requests from the day and then we pray together. The guys don’t exactly love it, they’re still getting used to the idea. But, it’s part of our devotional time with them. That night, when we did praises, I said I thanked God for bad days. At least three of them got whiplash turning to look at me, like I had 3 heads. “That makes no sense!” they said. I explained that it’s all a part of living together – we have good and bad days. And the bad days remind me how much I need Jesus. I have nothing to give them without Him. I can’t be patient, kind, loving or gentle without Him. I can try awfully hard, but I will fail – and I do. I asked them to forgive me for my bad attitude that morning and they assured me they did. And my prayer request was that God would help me to be more like Him – to have His love, His patience, His kindness and His gentleness. So, yeah…bad days are a bummer, but they are also quite wonderful in a weird way. I need the bad days because I need the One who orders my days. And despite moments of wanting to cry that day, as I sat around the table with our boys that night I realized that the contentment and joy I have is so deep-seated, bad days can’t take that away. When all is said and done, I know we are exactly where God wants us to be and I know that these boys are something special. I’m glad to share the good AND the bad days with them.

Like many Americans, today we celebrated Thanksgiving. Many of our kids are on a home visit, but we have 3 of our boys here. We had a special breakfast this morning with everyone on campus, then we met back together again for a feast of a late lunch. There was SO much food! And we wanted today to be special for the kids that have to be here over the holiday break, so we used fine china and decorated the tables and enjoyed a meal all together. It may not have been the kids' first preference, but I think it was a nice day. Many of them helped serve and clean up and seemed in good spirits. It was a special day. To top it off, we took the kids to see Frozen at the local movie theater. Can I just mention that I have a new favorite kids' movie? :-) Just putting that out there.

With today being Thanksgiving, most of us are thinking about all the reasons we have to be thankful. Like I mentioned above, I'm learning that giving thanks happens on the good days and the bad. We ALWAYS have reasons to be thankful and remembering that takes our focus off our circumstances and directs it to the Giver of good things. Some of our boys are in some miserable circumstances, they often have trouble finding things for which they can give thanks and need some reminding. It is our hope that they realize, like the rest of us, that God is good and gives good gifts all. the. time. And that we all will choose thankfulness every day, not just on this one day a year.

And now, I am choosing to be thankful for the Christmas season which is upon us! YAY! It's not too hard for me to choose thankfulness on that one, seeing as how I've been listening to Christmas music for 2 months already. But now it's socially acceptable. So, bring on the twinkling lights, the smells of evergreen, the sugar cookies and the carols and the sweet celebration of our Savior's birth!