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,