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.

https://headwaters.greatfeats.com/erin-bullock

 

Father’s Day 2015: I Remember the Shoes

Dad wedding

One of the worst things about loss is that it is completely unpredictable. You never know how it is going to feel from one moment to the next, or one year to the next, so you can’t protect yourself from it.  A friend of mine who had never experienced the loss of a loved one before asked me how it felt.  The best way that I could describe it was to say that it is like walking through your house in the dark.  Without really thinking about it, you know how many steps it takes to get from the bottom of the stairs to the kitchen floor.  You know how closely you need to walk to the wall to avoid hitting the kitchen table.  But every now and then, someone will bump into the couch and move it over just one tiny little inch.  One tiny little inch is all it takes.  You run right into it, jamming your toe, and before you can stop yourself you are withering in pain while a string of expletives escapes from your mouth.  You learn how to navigate the darkness, but you cannot predict how subtle changes in life will sneak up on you and trigger a pain that is always there, just below the surface.

Today, this picture was the couch.  I stared at this picture and what I realized was that I remember those shoes.  I remember how much those shoes hurt me and how desperate I was to take them off.  I stood holding the hand of greatness, bathed in immeasurable love, yet I can’t remember how that felt.  Instead, I remember the shoes.

I am a firm believer that love, much like energy, “can neither be created nor destroyed, but it transforms from one form to another”.  I know that my father’s love did not leave this world when he did.  It simply transformed from one form to another and I found it in a million little ways over the years.

I found my father’s love in my Uncle Greg and my Uncle Dan who both stepped up in their own ways to be a father figure to my siblings and me.  Through working on the house, occasionally helping with the bills, supporting our endeavors, providing love and guidance, and sharing their stories of our father with us.

I found my father’s love in my Grandpa Tony, a man who had no blood ties to us, but still loved us as he did his own grandchildren.  His love for my father has brought me so much comfort over the years.  Even now, 29 years later, the mere mention of my father’s name stirs up visible emotion within him.  He is a reminder that I haven’t glorified my father; he really was as great as we all knew him to be.

I found my father’s love in Frank, the man who married my mother.   He became a father to me when I was 19 years old and already knew all the ways of the world.  He loved me through my arrogance and helped me to grow into a person who now knows that she doesn’t know everything. He challenged me to learn more, do more, and be more and he supported me every step of the way.

I found my father’s love in my Pappy, a man who knew me for only a moment but still offered me the world.  We met in the midst of a disaster ten years ago, and I still think about him all of the time. Somehow he saw both the little girl inside me and the woman I had become and he believed that I was capable of anything.

I found my father’s love in my “chosen father”, my Jack; another man who left this world long before I was ready for him to go.  Jack loved me with a quiet acceptance that I never once questioned.  He nurtured the learner, the explorer, and the wanderer in me.  He showed me that life is light, music, art, and taking care of things that grow.  He reminded me that there is power in silence, there is peace in silence, and silence could bring me the stillness I desired.

So while I look at this picture and I only remember the shoes, I know that my father’s love was there as I clung to his finger, and it has been there every day of my life in all of the men who have loved me with my father’s love.

Happy Father’s Day!