The Magic of The Ranch

I took myself for a walk yesterday.  A real walk because I needed one. I try to go at least once a week because my walks, you see, are so much more than just a walk.  They are my church, my sanctuary, my port in the storm. Spending time among the trees is what makes me feel connected to the greater energy of this world.  Spending time in the woods allows me to speak to my faith with a stronger voice than I ever found while seated in a church.

A year ago this month something changed in my life.  I heard a calling to go back in time, back to a place where I received profound healing, a calling to go back to The Ranch.  I first set foot on The Ranch 17 years ago as a member of an Americorps NCCC team. We were stationed there for six weeks to help The Ranch as it built the foundation for what it has become today, a safe haven and a home for abandoned and abused children.   I’m not sure if I discovered it or if my friends did, but I became aware of the fact that The Ranch was hosting its first ever Marathon/Half Marathon/10k race. I knew, without a doubt, that it was time for me to return. So I signed up for the half marathon.  Now, if you knew me, you would find this to be laughable as all of my previous marathons involved Netflix. But a quite and nagging little voice inside of me told me that it was the right thing to do. So I spent the next three months training to hike 13.1 miles through the foothills of Texas.  

Each day I would hike three miles and on my days off from work I would challenge myself to hike farther and farther until I eventually made my way up to 12 miles.  Some of the hikes were hard, most of them were freezing cold, but all of them pushed me closer and closer to becoming a person I was proud to be. I would distract myself from the cold by thinking about my week and how I would improve next week.  I would mentally redesign my failures into opportunities. And some days, I would just get lost in the music or the beat of my feet hitting the ground below me.

I was elated by the time the calendar found its way to April and my trip was a matter of days away.  I became less elated as I boarded the plane and thought, “Holy shit! I HAVE to do this now. I HAVE to complete this half marathon. My only options are to finish it or die on The Ranch!” There was no inbetween for me.  I started to stress and to second guess myself and my ability. After all, I am not exactly the poster child for physical fitness. It’s funny how quickly doubt can creep in and how efficiently it can override all of your other thoughts.  

By the time I set foot on The Ranch I realized how foolish I had been to think that I was in this alone.  Firstly, two of my old teammates and friends were joining me on this adventure. Secondly, I had forgotten that God can be heard more easily in some places than in others, not because He speaks louder, but because we are able to listen more acutely. He can not be ignored on The Ranch.  If you’re not a believer trust me when I say that, even if you don’t call that feeling God, you will still be able to feel that there is still something larger than us at work there. Perhaps that feeling is simply Love; an abundance of Love for children who have received far less than they deserve.  That feeling, that Love, it weaves its way through everything, the trees, the ground, the river, the people. I knew, in a matter of moments, that I was right to listen to the calling that brought me back there.

The hike was far from easy, even though some crazy people actually felt the need to run it.  But, to each their own, I guess. The first few miles were the hardest and the voices started very early on; the ones of doubt and of all of the mean things I say to myself when no one else is listening.  But as soon as those voices started, I felt something strange happen. I heard each of them and realized that I was not going to ignore them this time in the hopes that they would go away. This was my chance to confront those voices head on.  The voices that repeat themselves saying that I’m not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough, anything enough… I realized, for the first time, that those voices were echos of different versions of myself; versions I thought I had left behind on the journey to find someone better.  I gave myself over to the magic of The Ranch and I let all of those versions of myself join me as I put one foot in front of the other.

As the miles passed I could feel something shifting inside of me.  I could do this! I wasn’t going to die out there. (Yes, I have a slight flare for the dramatic.)  With each step I realized that each voice came from a place of fear, anger, or longing. They were remnants of events which stole from me the childhood I could have had, perhaps should have had.  I realized that, while my experiences were nowhere near as extreme as the children who call The Ranch home, that did not diminish my very real feelings of abandonment and loss.

I completed the hike in record time (As in, record for me. As in, it was my first time so of course I was going to set my own personal record.  Just let me have this.)I knew the second I crossed the finish line that The Ranch had done it again; it had healed me. It found all of the broken pieces inside of me and just held them… loved them… gave them space to run. I left The Ranch knowing that I had stumbled across a new beginning.  I had discovered a new way to take care of myself. As soon as I got home I found another half marathon, and then another. I found myself wandering in the woods more often that I ever had in my entire life. But things had changed for me. I no longer go to the woods to try to destroy the voices, now I go to the woods to heal them. I have spent so much of my life running from place to place hoping that I would find the girl I wanted to be.  The Ranch reminded me that I will never find the girl I want to be, I have to create her, and I create her by learning to love all of the girls I’ve been before. If this is what The Ranch can do for me in two visits in almost 20 years, imagine what it can do for the children who call this Ranch home?

In April, I will return to The Ranch for their second Marathon/Half Marathon/10k.  I will go back to help secure a future for The Ranch so that generations of children can experience the love and the healing they so deserve.  If you, too, support this mission please consider following the link below to make a financial contribution. If you are unable to contribute financially but were moved by, or felt connected to, any part of this story please share this page so I can reach as many people as possible. Each click of the mouse is another step closer to the finish line; little by little I will reach my goal.  Thank you for reading, thank you for sharing, and thank you for being a part of the magic of The Ranch.


Lent 2014 – 29: How the Leaves of Change Changed it All




I took my friend Amanda to the ballet tonight. It was the first time that either of us had been and it was a rather enjoyable experience. I discovered that ballerinas are so skinny because they spend a lot of time running around in circles on the stage without really going anywhere. I learned that I prefer happy, upbeat numbers as opposed to the stoic ones. But, try as I might, even though I found the dancing to be beautiful, I still had no idea what each dance was about. I mean, the one titled “Auschwitz” was pretty self explanatory, but the others were slightly more evasive in their meanings. I was mildly disappointed with the costumes since I felt like they didn’t put much effort into fitting them on each girl and they looked a bit frumpy. Only one number was accompanied by live music, the rest were recordings. The seating was comfortable and spacious and the view of the stage was actually quite good. So, over all, I would give the experience a B+.

While I was watching the dancers tonight I found myself thinking, “That could have been me.” That could have been me on stage if my mother had not pulled the dance rug out from under my feet at a very young age. Let’s go back to where my dance career came to an end. The year was 1986 or 1987. It was a crisp fall day in the suburbs of Detroit. My sister, Lala, and I were outside playing in the leaves. We were laughing, singing, and enjoying the bond of sisterhood. My mother called out to us and told us that it was time to put on our tights and leotards so that we could go to dance. We said that we would come inside in a few minutes, but then the exuberant color of the leaves overtook us and we continued to throw them above our heads as we would laugh and laugh. My mother yelled out to us again; we were running out of time. We were about to go inside when the warmth radiating from the grown lulled us back into a trance while the Earth struggled to hold onto the day as the sun was quickly releasing it’s grip and setting in the West. My mother called out one last time and said that if we did not go inside immediately we would never dance again. The sun knew what we did not; time slips away quickly and sometimes you have to let it go, or you will end up in the dark with your ballet slippers tucked away for good. Lala and I continued to play well into the evening and, as my mother was true to her word, we never danced again.

I remind my mother of this story from time to time just to let her know that I have not forgotten her dream crushing blow. The truth is, I would not have lasted in dance very much longer, for the same reason that I would never last in the military: I refuse to take orders.  The picture above is from my one and only performance; I’m sure it was a sold-out show.  was Thumbelina.  Let me stress that for you again I, Erin Elise, was Thumbelina! However, my dance teacher saw fit to put 15 other girls on the stage and tell them that they were Thumbelina as well! Ha! Everyone knows that there is only one Thumbelina!  I followed along at each practice. I completed each step during rehearsal, but during the recital I claimed what was rightfully mine.  I stood at the end of the line of 16 girls; we spanned the width of the stage.  When the time came for the line to dance to stage left, I danced to the middle of the stage and stayed put, I was right where I belonged, center stage.  I spun, I twirled, I danced my heart out amid the whispers of the teachers backstage trying to usher me to join back up with the other girls.  Why on earth would I do that?  I was a Prima Ballerina Assoluta! I am a Prima Ballerina Assoluta even though I have not worn my ballet shoes in 27 years and I refuse to listen to anyone who tries to tell me otherwise! So while my mother kept me from going to dance, she was never able to take the dancer out of me!

“Thumbelina, Thumbelina tiny little thing
Thumbelina dance, Thumbelina sing
Thumbelina what’s the difference if you’re very small?
When your heart is full of love you’re nine feet tall.”

-Danny Kaye

Until tomorrow….