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.


Sunday Timbits

It’s Sunday morning and I’m eating timbits, drinking a latte, and listening to my nephew give me the play by play of whatever zombie video he is currently watching.  This could go on for hours. I am feeling the urge to write for the first time in a long time and I know that I have to strike while the iron’s hot.


As of this month, I have decided to say “yes” to more propositions.  So when my BIL asked if I wanted to go for a hike this morning, I said yes.  Cody and I are able to spend a lot of time outside together as he is very active, I enjoy a moderate level of exercise activity, and my sister is generally opposed to exercise.  So we kayak, we hike, he runs.


We head up to Waldenwoods together where it is exactly three miles around the lake.  It has been almost a year since I have gone around the lake. The last time we were out here together it was freezing cold and we were trudging through three feet of snow.   I asked him to leave me behind multiple times, but he refused to. This time we agreed that he would run, I would walk, and when he got to the end, he would turn around and meet me where I was and we would walk the rest of the way together.  Before we parted ways he asked if I had GPS on my phone. He said that if I got turned around, I just had to follow the dirt path. He took off and, after about five minutes, he was out of my sight.



I was fine for about half a mile and then I took a sharp turn into the thick of the woods and all dirt disappeared under a thick blanket of leaves.  It took me a moment before I realized that if I actually paid attention I could see some of his footsteps in the leaves where he disturbed them enough to show the mud underneath.  It was a very slight difference, but enough to get me back on the right path. A mile in I came across a tree that had fallen across the path. It was about waist height so I either had to go under it or over it.  I pushed on it and it gave enough that I knew I could swing my leg over it and then swing the other leg over. Cut to me straddling the log, my hands slipping on the snow, and me branch punching myself in the crotch with the snow covered branch.  That will wake you up!


I did some wide legged walking while I waited for my crotch to stop throbbing and thaw out.  It was a few more yards in when I heard the forest around my come to life as a giant buck ran across my path about 200 yards up ahead.  And that is when my first realization happened. My heart was pounding because it took me a moment to realize that it was not a giant wolf about to devour me.  And then I was worried that where one deer was, more could follow. So I stayed completely still as I waited to be trampled to death by the hooves of 12 prancing deer.  Yet, I didn’t even think about grabbing my phone. I just wanted to enjoy it, and not miss a minute of it (the moment, not actually being trampled to death). And then I realized that I am the only person in the entire world who will see that.  No one will watch it on tv, no one will thumb past it like another hit on You Tube, that moment was for me and me alone. In that moment, it was just me, alone in the woods, enjoying all of the nature around me. It was a great. I then began to ponder the difference between a good and a great moment.  I realized that in every great moment, I have never felt the urge to capture it or interrupt it by taking a picture or video. It is like I have felt that to introduce a foreign object into the moment to record it, I would somehow fracture the magic, and it would feel so intrusive for someone to look upon that moment in the future without truly being able to appreciate all of the feeling as well.   I just want to immerse myself in it because I want to savor it and keep it as a gift for only me to rewatch over and over again. I have been fortunate to have so very many good moments over the last few years, but I find that, now, I am truly in search of so very many great moments.


As I came upon the second mile the trail got confusing and I had to make a choice between two directions.  I made a poorly educated guess and walked to the left. I started to get the sense that I was going the wrong way, so I took out my GPS and had a look.  As I stared at the map I understood the basic idea of where I should go, but then I had the embarrassing thought that that still didn’t really help me. Damn it!  Why didn’t my mother ever let me be a Girl Scout? Or even a Daisy, that’s probably all of the training that I would have needed. So I kept walking as I watched my little blue line on the map.  I walked just far enough to grow a little appendage on the map to see that I was walking away from the lake instead of around it. And there was realization number two.


When we are younger we are all given a spoken, or unspoken, map of expectations to live by.  We will go school, graduate, go to college, graduate, meet someone, get married, grow your carreer, and start a family, grow old, and die.  We “see” this map, or the one we create for ourselves, and we have a general idea or where we are going and the path we will take to get there.  But the problem with a map isn’t always that you don’t know how to read it, but more often that you don’t know where you are on the map to start moving along.  I knew where the lake was on the map, but I didn’t know where I was in relation to the lake on the map, so it didn’t help me until I started moving and could see in which direction I was going.


I went to school, graduated, went to Americorps, went to college, graduated, and grew my career.  I have been occasionally frustrated by when I will hit the next step and I realized now that so much anxiety comes from not knowing when that next step is going to happen.  I would do myself a good service by taking a step back from trying to decide where to go on the map, and more time really figuring out where I actually am on the map.


Cody finished his three miles and turned around to meet back up with me.  We started walking to the end of the trail together and I started thinking about how he would complete six miles in the time it took me to do three.  And so began realization three. I have struggled in the past to be active because I have not felt compelled to be active in the same ways as other people.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the half marathons I’ve done and the anticipation of more to come, but I have felt slightly judged by people in the “running community” that my 13.1 miles are not as significant as their 13.1 miles because they did it faster than me.  But that’s the thing I needed to accept. I get enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment out of pushing myself harder, not out of pushing myself faster. I like climbing more hills with more obstacles, as opposed to getting to the end sooner than I did before. And that’s okay.  The real success is in pushing myself, not in HOW I push myself.


Damn, I really needed those woods today!  Thanks, Coco.