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.