Saturday, September 28, 2013

A New Beginning!

The first two weeks here were jam-packed! We were warned it would be pretty intense and everyone was (and continues to be) very understanding about it all. They know it’s a lot to take in and they have been nothing but encouraging and supportive of us as we learn the ropes here. We did a whole host of trainings. We met all the administrative staff and had orientation with each of them. We read policies and procedures, state regulations, staff and resident handbooks and filled out lots of paperwork. We did CPI certification to teach us crisis-prevention strategies and some passive restraint techniques (which we will hopefully never have to use!) We attended a suicide prevention class, CPR/First Aid training and three days’ worth of medication administration training (complete with tests!) And all the while, our girls were in the loving and capable hands of a family member, who graciously volunteered her time to stay with the girls every day for those first 2 weeks. What a blessing!

When the classroom trainings were completed, we began our in-cottage training. For two weeks we were in the cottage with another set of house parents, learning how all the stuff we learned in the classroom fleshes out in the cottage. I think for the past month, Jason and I have felt like our brains have turned to mush – there is just SO much to learn and remember! But everyone assures us it will be second nature soon enough.
In the midst of learning all this stuff, we’ve been blessed to get to know some pretty wonderful people. First, there are the boys in our cottage. I’ll tell you more about them later, but we love getting to know them and building relationships. Then, there are the people with whom we work. Our supervisor and his wife were the previous house parents in Miller Cottage. I honestly don’t know how we could make this transition without them. They have two little girls and a baby boy and our girls adore their kids! And they have really made us feel so welcome here. They are willing to answer any questions and are available at just about any time you need them. There are the relief house parents, another couple who just happens to be from Maine (how funny is that?!) They have gone out of their way to teach us and help us. And these people I’ve mentioned are representative of the rest of the staff here. Every single person here has been so welcoming, so helpful and so encouraging. One of the things that really impressed us on our interview here is that it’s an all-hands-on-deck operation. They ask you to come here with a teachable heart and a willingness to be flexible, but it works that way on both ends. If the ministry is short-staffed, everyone jumps in to help – all the way up to the director and his wife. No one just sits in an office all day and expects the cottage staff to work themselves to death. We saw the HR Director out working with the horses. We saw the director and his wife serving as house parents. Everyone is part of a team here, a family. And everyone is willing to do what needs to be done. This is one of the things that impressed us most about this place and we are so excited to be a part of that.


Friday, September 27, 2013

God Answers

We built our home on family land in 2010. Selling was not an option for a number of reasons, but we knew nothing about being landlords. And how could we do it from such a distance? There were moments that we felt this was impossible – that the house would be our undoing. But God placed some fantastic people in our lives…people who knew what to do. Some couples in our church who are experienced landlords were an incredible help to us in getting the ball rolling and figuring out how to rent our property. My parents were more than gracious in offering to be on-site landlords. This was not lost on us – we knew that it was incredibly hard on them to watch this process unfold. And on top of that, to help us wrap up the details so we could move hundreds of miles away…well, that’s just heart-wrenching. As a side note, my parents (who have been our neighbors for the last 5 years) were amazing in all of this. We had some tough conversations and some very emotional moments, but we couldn’t have asked for better support and love than we got from them. Giving them a shout out in this blog doesn’t begin to cover how thankful we are for them, but it’s worth mentioning! With all the help we received in getting our house ready to rent, we began to see that God was taking care of the “impossible.” The people who were helping us navigate the rental process encouraged us to list our home as available for October 1 move-in. We were hoping for September and they told us that was impossible. We were ok with adjusting the date if we needed to, but we gave it a try. We posted it on craigslist and within a few days, a woman called and said she was very interested and would like to come look that afternoon and was even ready to make a deposit! And when were they available to move in? September! After going through a process of reference, credit and employment checks, we agreed to rent the home to them. Once again, God blew us away!

Our next hurdle: how on earth can we make this move? Financially, it seemed impossible. But, we continued on, knowing that God had taken care of all the other “impossible” details in this and that if we were supposed to be going to Joy Ranch, He would get us there. We didn’t tell anyone about this hurdle. And as if God hadn’t already blessed our socks off, He then provided abundantly through the prayerful and financial gifts of support through our church family. We were humbled through all of this. None of this was because we deserved it – it was all simply because God was at work being the Giver of good gifts that He is. We are so undeserving!

In the midst of all this, we were purging, packing and cleaning like it was our job! We were able to get rid of quite a bit of stuff and even made a little extra money for tolls and gas in the process. Those few weeks were a whirlwind of activity and emotion! We made visits and said our good byes to as many people as we could on such a limited time frame. I remember it being such a strange mix of emotions – excitement, nervousness, sadness, happiness…but overall, a sense of calming peace. I knew (and still know) that this is where we were supposed to be going. I will forever treasure those last days in Maine, though because we made some great memories with some special friends and family and no matter the distance I know those relationships remain.
On August 31st we got up early, said a tearful "good bye" to my parents and set out on our new adventure! We stretched the trip out a bit, to make it easier on our girls. We stayed a night in Pennsylvania, a night at Jason's parents' house and then pulled into Joy Ranch on the evening of September 2nd. We had shipped out belongings down with a moving company and they weren't due to arrive until the 4th. Since we were without most of our things, we couldn't move into our new apartment. We stayed in McHenry Cottage for a few days, which is currently used for guests and work teams. (So those of you that would like to visit us and check out what we're all about down here, let us know and we can potentially fix you up with a place to stay!) That first night, we enjoyed dinner at a local Mexican restaurant with our supervisor, his wife and kids. It was a nice way to spend our first evening here and our girls immediately hit it off with theirs. When we got back to our cottage, we settled in for a quiet night as a family. The next few weeks of training promised to be very full. We knew that with the dawn of a new day, life would be changing for our little family...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Journey Into the Unknown

This journey technically began a very long time ago, but where does one begin? When we met? When we both came to know Jesus? When we were born? When our parents met? You see, it’s hard to pinpoint the beginning, but to spare you unnecessary detail, we’ll try to narrow things down a bit…

Jason and I met at The Fold Family Ministries in Vermont back in 2006, serving as “disciplers” (read: big brother/big sister) to troubled teens in a home setting. We loved our first taste of residential ministry! We both met Jesus in our early years and knew He had called us to live a life for Him, one that would be different. Fast forward a few years and we had married, settled in Maine, had two little girls and were living the “American dream.” We thought we were happy. But then God rocked our world a bit. Things got really hard in a number of areas of our lives: finances, marriage, mental/emotional health. We were driven to our knees. We realized God was moving us in a different direction.

So, in February of 2013, we set out on a journey into the unknown (to us, at least.) Thankfully, the God we serve is all-knowing and nothing in our lives surprises Him. We started reflecting on our desire to work with children and teens and how much we enjoyed residential ministry. Thus began an online search to find opportunities as house parents. In our search, we discovered something called “children’s homes” which was a new concept to us. These places exist to provide for children whose home lives are unstable, for a variety of reasons. Each ministry is different in the services they offer and the groups to which they minister. Some come from situations of abuse and neglect, some have parents who are incarcerated or institutionalized and some have parents who have passed away or who have abandoned them. We knew the moment we “stumbed upon” these programs that we wanted to be involved in them. We started sending out resumes and filling out applications right away. At the first place we applied, God slammed the door closed, for whatever reason. The same place posted another opening shortly after and we applied once again, only to be turned down again! Feeling slightly stung and confused, we gave up. We thought perhaps we had misunderstood God.

About a month later, we both were wondering why we gave up at all since the burden was still on our hearts. So, we started searching and sending applications out again. We were praying that God would make the way abundantly clear and slam all doors but one. We thought we had it narrowed down to “the one,” a ministry in Oklahoma that was seeking relief house parents. The set up sounded perfect, the people were extremely nice and helpful. They invited us to come for an interview. At this point, I (Michelle) freaked out. They were very serious about us joining their team and we knew that if we were to go out there, it would be saying that we were sure ourselves. I just wasn’t sure I could be *that* far away from everything and everyone I knew. We talked to several couples who had been or currently were house parents and we knew the demands would be great. Could we do such a job and such a big move without knowing a soul? Could we even afford to go out for the interview, never mind the move?! And just after our second Skype interview with this ministry (the interview where they invited us to come for a visit) we received an e-mail from a place called Joy Ranch in Virginia. We had applied there a week or two prior, but never heard anything in response. And then “suddenly” on the very same day we were asked to come to Oklahoma, we heard from them. Now what?!

 Since I was so hesitant, we asked the people in OK for another week to think and pray about this opportunity. At the end of the week, we felt a sense of peace – that if God was calling us somewhere, we had to follow, even if it meant moving to a different time zone and not knowing a soul. That was scary! But, we were confident that God would provide for our needs; financially, spiritually and emotionally. So, we contacted the ministry only to be told that they were preparing to interview another couple and would get back to us in a couple weeks if the position was still vacant.

Wait…say what, God?! I thought I understood…I was okay with going halfway across the country, if that’s what He wanted. Isn’t that what He wanted? I was kind of disappointed at this news. We were confused. Again. But God wasn’t.

While we waited for that ministry to get back to us, we decided to continue on with the other prospects. We had a couple of phone calls with the people at Joy Ranch and a Skype interview that went really well. We started to get excited. Virginia would be a perfect fit. If we were going to uproot our whole family, wouldn’t it be nice to be close to some family? To have some people we knew close by? And wouldn’t it be nice for Jason to be back in his home state for a bit, an hour away from his parents for the first time in 7 years? It would be a big change, but not nearly as big and scary as some of the other options. I wrestled with that for a bit because I thought following God meant having to go far, far away and be removed from everything and everyone we knew. It sounds silly, but I thought Virginia was the “easy” way, so it certainly couldn’t be where He wanted us. So, we waited to see what He was going to do.

Lo and behold, the staff at Joy Ranch invited us to come down for an interview. We told them that Jason had a week off July 13-19 and we could make an impromptu trip down, if that worked. They said it not only worked, it was the one week out of the whole month that all the staff would be there so we could meet everyone! How “convenient” right? Now, understand something – at Jason’s previous job, vacation time must be requested at the beginning of October of the year prior. This means that Jason put in for this particular week off in October of 2012...with absolutely no idea that this was coming. In fact, going back into ministry wasn’t even on our radar!

We began making plans for this trip to Virginia. What do you know, the day we left for the trip the other ministry from Oklahoma e-mailed AND called to tell us the position was still open and invite us down for an interview! Not sure what that meant, we informed them of our travels and asked if we could talk to them when we returned.

We set out to interview for the girls home, but upon our arrival we were told that it could be either the girls’ home or the boys’ home. Jason was in love right away. I was a basket case. I was hoping for the same “feeling” I got when I interviewed at the ministry in Vermont – that certainty that *this* was where I was supposed to be. That feeling didn’t come. I was confused. Is this where God wanted us or was it Oklahoma? At the end of our weekend there, they offered us the position and we asked to have a week to think about it before committing. The entire trip back to Maine was spent with me expressing my concerns and confusion and Jason expressing his certainty that this was where we needed to be. I was still waiting for my feelings to convince me, which is rarely a good idea. It took the ladies at the pregnancy center (where I had been a volunteer for 5 years) to help me see what my dear husband had been trying to point out all along – that God’s hand was directing this path. My “aha” moment came with them. It was at that moment that I made the decision in my mind that Joy Ranch was the place for us. And as soon as I let that sink in, those feelings followed suit! After that moment, I never wavered. Not only that, I began to see with clarity the many ways God was swinging the doors wide open for this to happen! We immediately informed the staff at Joy Ranch that we were coming and began filling out the stack of paperwork they had sent home with us. There was one problem: our house.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

IrRASHional for Jesus

ir·ra·tion·al (adj.)

1. Without the faculty of reason; deprived of reason.

2. Without or deprived of normal mental clarity or sound judgment.

3. Not in accordance with reason; utterly illogical: irrational arguments. 

4. Not endowed with the faculty of reason: irrational animals.


Some might say the adventure we just began was irrational, ridiculous or crazy. After all, who gives up a nice house, a comfortable life full of lots of great relationships to move into a noisy home full of boys, knowing no one and with only a small basement apartment to call “our own?” The answer: we would! And we couldn’t be happier!
We want to share this adventure with you, so we created this blog to give a little background to this journey and give you a means to travel along with us. So, come on in to Miller cottage - currently home to 6 boys and the Rash family, and join us as we do life together at Joy Ranch!