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.


Studying People on Study Sunday

I know myself well enough by now to know that studying at home is never going to be productive.  For starters, I am constantly thinking of one of three things:

1.  Man, there is a lot of stuff that I really should get done around here.  Maybe I’ll just clean for a little bit and then go back to studying.  I never go back to studying.

2.  I’m kind of, sort of, not really hungry but maybe I’ll make a snack. Oh, actually, maybe I’ll just make a drink.  Two in the afternoon on a Sunday isn’t too early for a drink, is it?  Nah!!! I never go back to studying.

3.  Huh, I wonder what my bed is doing right now?  It is probably up there, all alone, looking super comfortable and cozy.  I should just go up there for a minute to say hello.  After all, I haven’t visited with my bed since this morning and I don’t want it to feel neglected.  I never go back to studying.

So I know that I have to force myself to leave my house if I ever plan on getting any real studying done.  I also know that I can’t take my computer with me because I will constantly be wondering what is going on in the world of Facebook.  I will, all of a sudden, feel a need to look at all 897 pictures of the girl who my “friend” stated talking to just to make sure that she doesn’t look cuter, funnier, or smarter than me.  I know that those last two things would be difficult to determine based on looking at a picture, but now you should be able to understand why I have to look so closely at each one.

Once I leave my house and go to a public spot, sans computer, the distractions don’t simply disappear.  I have this horrible habit of listening to everything around me.  I do it all the time!

At a restaurant with friends: I’m listening, telling stories, sharing the mozzarella sticks, but the whole time I am listening to at least three conversations around us.

In a quite library:  things will be going well enough until someone sits six tables away from me and is wearing a wrist watch.  I can hear the damn ticking!  I’m not joking!  And as soon as I hear it, there is no hope of ever tuning it out.

The thing that really drives me crazy though is when women feel the need to speak with really hard “s” and “t” sounds.  These same women usually carry on, ad  nauseam, about something that they, alone, think is of high importance.  Usually it has something to do with their amazing four-year-old and how much smarter they are than every other four-year-old in the world.  Sometimes it is about the unfair service they received at their country club.  Or how they ordered a Shriaz but were served a Syrah, and yes, there is a difference.  I will often find myself unknowingly clenching my fists as I fight the urge to turn around and yell, “Shut the hell up!!  Seriously, just shut up!  Oh, and next time why don’t you order a bottle of Malbec?  I’m sure they won’t be able to screw that up!!!”

I’ve discovered that the best way for me to get any studying done is to sit at a table in a bookstore right next to the children’s section.  Oddly enough, the constant squeals, crys, and various noises that tiny humans insist on making are far less distracting to me, thus they are more easily tuned out.  So, I was quite pleased today when my studying was only distracted twice in three hours.

The first time involved a family of four.  There was a mother, father, three-year-old boy and a twelve month old boy.  The mother asked the father to watch the kids so she could go to the bathroom.  Daddy sat down at the Lego table and became totally focused on playing Legos with the three-year-old.  Meanwhile, the baby was left to entertain himself, which he did quite effectively.  He had a toy that he would throw on the ground and then he would wobble after it like a drunk trying to pick up their shoe that fell off.  He would reach his toy, pick it up, throw it again, and chase after it.  The entire time the baby was getting  closer and closer to me and further and further away from his father, who didn’t turn around once.

At this point I should mention that kids, for whatever reason, always seem to like me.  While adults, even complete strangers, always seem to trust me with their children.  So I was not surprised in the least when I saw that this little boy was making his way in my direction.  What I was surprised by was when he took a fast detour and went running to throw his toy over the railing and onto the unsuspecting people on the floor below.  Thankfully another mother stepped in, picked the baby up, and returned him to his father.  The father threw the baby in the air playfully and said, “I have two of you now.  I always forget that I have two of you!”  Oh dear Lord!  That child has been on this earth for, AT LEAST, twelve months now and you keep “forgetting” that you have him?!  I’ll admit, there was a part of me that didn’t intervene because I wanted the mother to come back and see how far away her baby was and how the father wasn’t watching at all.  But, alas, mommy came back and was none the wiser.

The forgetful little family left and I was able to focus on my studying again, instead of keeping a watchful eye one someone else’s spawn.  My next distraction came in the form of three high school kids: one boy, two girls.  One of the girls asked someone about a wheat allergy.  The guy answered her saying something about gluten. The girl then asked, “If they don’t eat wheat, are they a vegetarian?’  At this point I simply stopped working because I knew that I couldn’t NOT listen to his answer.  And boy, he did not disappoint when he said this:

“Yeah.  Well vegetarians don’t eat wheat but they also don’t eat cows or chickens.  See, they believe that all animals have a soul so they refuse to eat them.  But they do eat fish but that’s different.  It’s okay to eat fish because you’re not hurting their soul.”

I seriously snorted as I tried to contain my laughter.  Was this kid for real?  I thought my head was going to explode when I heard her say:

“Wow, you’re really smart about so many things.”

To which he replied,

“Yeah, I know a lot of really random facts about people and the world.”

It was at that point that I decided to call it a night.  I knew that, as long as they were still talking, I would never be able to get any more work done.  All in all though I am pleased with the three hours that I did get it.  Hooray for me!