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.


Oh the Things You Will Hear if You are Willing to Listen

Oh this day last year I was merrily on my way to my most beloved place in the world, Harrisville, MI.  My sister’s family and I had rented a cottage for the entire week on Lake Huron.  They drove up the night before but, due to my work schedule, I had to wait and drive up on Sunday, which was Father’s Day.  It was a four hour drive spent in the sunshine, with my windows down, and the music blaring.  I look forward to drives like this because it gives me a chance to really think about things, really explore my feelings, and ask myself questions that I avoid asking during the buzz and hum of every day life.  

Since it was Father’s Day, my mind and heart naturally drifted to thoughts of fathers.  I thought about, and gave thanks for, the many men in my life who have stood up to be a positive male role model to me, from teachers to family friends to uncles to my step father, and even my D.A.R.E. officer.  I have been blessed to know what a good man is and why I am deserving of the love of a good man.  However, all of the love that has been showered upon is still a close second to the love of my father whom I lost too soon. My father died when he was forty and I was only four which left an aching tenderness in my heart that has never fully healed.  


As I drove on I went through the normal list of questions: would he be proud of me? would I be proud of him? would he think I’m funny and pretty and smart? would he believe in my dreams and my ability to achieve them?  what would he say to me today? I wiped away tears on and off for the next hour. As I was passing through a little lake shore town I saw a sign in front of an old church that advertised a used book sale.  

Two things you should know about me: 

1.  I will ALWAYS stop for a used book sale, always!

2.  I love happening upon a book that has an inscription in it written to some stranger whom I will never meet.  The trick though is that I can not look for inscriptions; the inscriptions have to find me when I pick up a book that interests me.  Then, if I find a book that I’m interested in AND there is an inscription in it, I HAVE to buy it.  

So, I pulled my car over, rolled down the windows for the lizard in my back seat, and walked in to begin my treasure hunt.  When I got inside I saw that it was a large empty room except for 5 long tables on either side completely filled with books.  The spines of the books were all facing the sealing so that you could not see the cover of any book except the one on the very end.  This isn’t my favorite way of searching for books, as I am heavily swayed by cover art, but I’ve grown accustomed to this type of search and the extra time that it calls for.  I walked directly to the first table, put my hands on the spines, and began my search.  I looked at the books where my left hand had landed and immediately drew my hand back.  I looked around the room as if to question the strangers to see if they saw what I was seeing.  Even if they had though, they would have no idea what it meant.  

The very first book beneath my hand was The Fall of Freddie the Leaf.  If my recollection serves me, I believe that a family friend brought this book over to our house shortly after our father had passed, though I can not recall who that friend may have been.  What I do recall is that this book was read to us in an attempt to explain what we were going through.  Freddie is a leaf on a tree who experiences the four seasons alongside his friend Daniel (which just so happens to be my father’s name).  As Spring turns to Summer and Summer turns to Fall, Daniel guides Freddie through the changes and explains that it is all a part of Life and our larger purpose.  In the Winter, Daniel releases his grip on the tree and falls gently to the ground, leaving Freddie alone.  Freddie is fearful for a period until he accepts that this is all a part of the process, and that he too must let go one day.  When his time comes, Freddie is able to view the entire tree for the first time and he understands in full what his purpose was.  


I’ll be honest, as a child I don’t think the book had the impact on me that the adults had hoped for; metaphors we lost on me.  Regardless though, I thought the book was an odd find to come across on Father’s Day, in the middle of no where, after I had spent the entire drive thinking about my father.  I pulled the book from its resting place and opened the front cover.  Much to my delight, the front cover was inscribed.  Not only was the front cover inscribed though, it was dated 1986, the exact year that my father died.  

The inscription read as follows:

To Elaine – My friend,

This is one of my very favorite books – and I know it will become one of yours.  It is a gentle reminder to me – of the meaning and “beauty” of death – and a reminder also of our “Purpose” or “Reason for Being”.  Your parents had many “Reasons for Being”. Giving the world a daughter as beautiful as you are is only one “Purpose”. 


I immediately put the book in my bag as I knew that it had been placed there just for me.  I rounded up a handful of other books, gave my donation, and got back on the road.  My eyes again filled with tears, but this time they were tears of understanding as the message had been received.  

When I got to my final destination, I walked into the lake (which is the one place that I have always felt his presence), looked towards the heavens and wished my father a happy Father’s Day and thanked him for his gift.