So much has happened since I last wrote. I will do my best to get caught up. The summer seemed to fly by. We continued to look for homes, even though our hearts were changing what we were looking for.
Alex spent hours and hours with Larry; learning about tractors, farming (things like hay and corn), and feeling like he got a really cool older brother in this whole process. It makes this mama’s heart soar to see how happy he is. Alex wrestles with ADHD as well as some sensory issues and, even though he doesn’t have enough to make a clinical diagnosis, he leans towards Aspberger’s. It is difficult to find things that make him truly happy. Farming does! He is even learning to operate the equipment!
Abby and Hannah had a great time playing with the kids who live next door. Hours and hours were spent pretending and learning. Hannah even “adopted” a kitten that we get to take with us when we leave, her name is Seal. At one point some other kids came to adopt two kittens and they wanted Seal. Mr. Beiler remembered that she was Hannah’s kitten and kindly directed the other kids to other kittens.
Our relationship with the Beiler’s has become one of family. We visit with them as much as we can, having cookouts, games at our house, we were even invited to a picnic at their church. There will be many tears when it is time for us to go. I was even able to help out with the dairy farm some. They have gone away twice now and let me take care of the milking, monitoring the herd of heifers, and feeding the calves. I feel very honored that they trust me with their livelihood.
As a side-story…the first time they went away, I had to learn all about the gate system in the back of the farm where the heifers are turned out. There are two large paddocks, each divided in half, so four paddocks in total that you rotate from day to day. When the heifers come in in the morning, you ride out and change the gates. When they go back out to the pasture, they have access to a different field. Anyway, the point is that I didn’t yet know where all of the gates were in the fencing system – mostly just the ones I needed to know. On the first night they were gone, we had gone to look at a farm. We got home and I went to the milk house to get things ready. Alex came into the milk house and said, “Mom, the heifers are out!”. My heart stopped. There were 64 at the time. 64! I ran out and sure enough, they were running through the half-grown, 5-foot-tall corn, towards 340. At the same time, a random car pulled into the driveway. I didn’t have time to see what they needed. Alex and I hopped on the golf car, smashed the gas pedal to the floor, and took off towards 340. I quickly saw how I could drive up along the corn and possibly stop them from running out into the road. The busy, 4-lane road, at 6:00 in the evening when it’s about as packed as it gets. I would have been a second too late if it weren’t for a car that honked its horn at the very moment the heifers stepped out of the corn. I’m sure it was the car that came down the driveway, probably to tell someone that the cows were loose. They turned, thankfully, back into the corn. I then had to make a split second decision; do I keep going down to the farmer’s market to get around the corn field so I can follow the road back and hope that they keep going back towards their pasture or do I make a hard right into the corn to herd them directly back towards the pasture they came from? If I went all the way down to the farmer’s market, surely they would have come right back out into the road, it was a long way around. The golf car, however, was having some issues stalling and the corn was over its roof in most spots. I took the gamble and told Alex to “hold on”! Off we went, weaving back and forth in the corn, moving the heifers back towards their pasture. At this point, I didn’t know exactly how they had gotten out. A broken fence? An open gate? I just didn’t know. I did know that I had to get them away from the road. So when we got to a break in the corn, I had Alex hop out and go get Chris. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to have him do, but I needed help. So I continued to push them and Alex went to get Chris. When he came out, they were headed in the right direction, but I didn’t know if there was a gate where they were going. I looked along the fence line and saw a spot in the electric fence that we could take down and let them in. Not into the back field, but at least into a confined area. So Chris took that part down and I started to try and push them in. It wasn’t working, they kept going farther and farther back. Finally, I had them fairly well cornered and I hopped out to see if there was a gate I could open. Then I saw it, an open gate. Someone had walked through the property and left a gate open (they have people walk through pretty frequently). So I got back in the golf car and pushed them through. They were safe! We were exhausted and they were safe. Later that night we laughed about how silly the little white roof of the golf car looked weaving back and forth through the corn. What a champ that little golf car was that day!!!!!
From May until about July, we kept looking online at homes and small farms. We had changed our parameters a little in that we were looking for a farm that would accommodate not only our family, but be a home for True Mission. True Mission is an organization aimed at long-term restoration of girls who have been victims of human trafficking. Our decade-long neighbors and former church family members went on a mission trip to Still Creek Ranch in Texas. A place that uses horses to help restore these broken girls. They came home with a God-sized mission to bring True Mission to Virginia and open a long-term residential care facility for girls who have been victims of human trafficking. About two years prior to this summer, they came to our church and spoke about their vision. When they mentioned a horse ministry, Chris and I were struck by it. I had never dreamed that I could use my knowledge and passion for horses (that God had given me) to teach people about the love of Jesus. We both sat there in tears, not knowing God’s plans, only knowing that we wanted to help with this vision.
Fast-forward to our house hunt. After becoming comfortable on a farm, in a home without air conditioning and many of the creature comforts we had been used to, we started looking for a farm. We found one about twenty minutes from Stuarts Draft on the other side of Waynesboro. We went to look at it twice. It was not in our home town, but it was perfect!!! We thought we had found the one. They were asking $375,000, which we could not do, so I wrote a letter and we put in an offer of $325,000. While they were very appreciative of the letter, they declined our offer and accepted a higher one days later. It was not God’s time or the right place…
Also for the past four years, as Chris had been growing closer to God, he was feeling that God had put it on his heart to quit his job as a police officer. Every time Chris brought it up, I had an almost visceral reaction; upset stomach, tears, and terrible anxiety. If he retired, this whole little family’s financial responsibility would be on me. He wanted to learn about Christian coucilling. That’s wonderful, but in the meantime, I would be taking on the man’s role of the house and I didn’t like it one bit. It just felt so wrong. I encouraged him to stay until he had been there for 20 years. At that time, he could retire and receive partial benefits from the state when he turned 50. On August 19, he had his 20-year anniversary at the Albemarle County Police Department.
On August 23, True Mission held a meeting. I was able to attend and it again ignited the horse ministry fire in me. Now, I had never really looked into what a horse ministry was or how it was helping these girls in Texas. So that Saturday, I started to google. I googled “Christian horse ministry Virginia”. The first one that came up was called Glory Reins. In their “about us” section, they said that they were modeled after a place in Oregon called Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch. I read a little bit about Glory Reins, closed it, and went on to the next one on the list. It was called Wings of Hope. As I was reading, they, too, were modeled after Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Oregon. I thought it was a good idea to check out the Crystal Peaks web site. Turns out that they offer annual seminars to help people start a horse ministry! In the four-day seminar, they cover all the nuts and bolts of starting your own. I shared what I was learning with Chris and we were pretty excited about it all. These would be tools that we could use to help True Mission.
When we got home from church on Sunday, August 28, we had driven separately and I had taken much longer than Chris. The kids and I had stopped for lunch before coming home so he was home for about an hour before we got there. When I walked in, I could tell that he had gotten a word from God. He always has this look, and I can just tell. So I asked him, “do you have a word?” He said, “I need to quit my job and we are going to start a horse ministry.” It was the first time that I had complete peace about him retiring. I mean complete peace. There was absolutely no hesitation, I was in 100% agreement. We knew that this was only of God. His timing! So that night we typed up his resignation letter and he turned it in the next day. His last day of work would be September 30 and we were going to have a horse ministry to help not only True Mission, but any other lost and hurting soul that was seeking the love of Jesus.
If we can go back just a little, in about May, I had asked my supervisor to make me part time. Working at night was really taking a toll on our family. While I was not, technically, out of the home as much as if I worked during the day, I was tired all the time. They were unable to meet my request due to staffing, so I just kept working. In August, we went on vacation and then I had my gallbladder removed so I was off more than I was on and I actually felt good. I realized how tired I was all the time from working at night. We decided that it was time to look elsewhere for a job for me. One of my dear friends, who I had known for about 8 years, had just accepted a job as the Director of Nursing at a nursing home. I didn’t want to work in a nursing home, but she and I talked about PRN hours and pay. I could make decent money and basically make my own schedule, so I was considering it. In very early September, after Chris had put in his retirement notice, my friend met me at the house to talk about my options. She asked me if I would consider a full time position. About two weeks prior I would have said no, but now, I was interested. She offered me the position of Staff Development Coordinator (staff educator). Chris and I would almost be swapping paychecks and my hours would be while the big kids were in school. A big part of me was hesitant because I have always been a stay home Mom. I would be missing precious time with my little Fizzy. On the other hand, Chris had never had that time at home with any of the kids. It was his turn, so I accepted the position. God had stepped in, once again, to provide for us as we sought to follow His path for our family.
During the first two weeks of October, I had my last day of work at the hospital and Chris cared for Isabella during the day while I was sleeping. We had a few lunch dates, learned more about what a horse ministry is, and decided that we wanted to go to the annual seminar held at Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in May of 2017. Our pastor met with Chris and he shared our vision with him. Seth asked us to share with our body how God was moving in our hearts and lives. So in mid-October, we stood in front of our body and shared our vision. The encouragement we received from our church family was such a confirmation to us! We had many people thank us for stepping out in faith and offer to help us. It was such a blessing.
I was set to start my new job on November 7, so in the last few weeks of October, Chris and I visited the two horse ministries that I had googled so we could see, first-hand, how they operate. We gained some new friends and people who are willing to walk with us in this journey. Remember that amazing family that helped take care of Fizzy for a while, the Burkholders? Two of their girls have been exceptionally excited about this journey and joined us on one of the visits. It is so comforting to have people walking with us!
Our former pastor, who is a close friend of ours, works with Chris at a local ministry called Love Inc. Chris started volunteering there a few years ago and Bruce is on the board. He told Chris that a position might be coming available for him. By the middle of November, Chris interviewed for and accepted a part-time position as the Volunteer Coordinator at Love Inc. It will be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, while the big kids are in school. We are still trying to work out childcare for Fizzy, but we know that this is God’s will and He will provide. This position will put countless willing souls at Chris’s fingertips and teach him how to organize and lead volunteers. An extremely valuable skill for our ministry. Again, God is leading us!
That leads us to this past week. Chris and I have both had a terrible week. Questioning what we’re doing, we are so ready to be in our own home again and start this healing ministry. We feel like he has been preparing us for so long (even though in writing this, it truly hasn’t been very long) and we are ready, we just felt a little lost. Why wasn’t He coming through? On Tuesday, in Chris’s prayer time, he felt that God told him it is time to move. That evening, we looked online at the available homes and found nothing that would suit our ministry and our family. We went to bed disheartened and stressed because Chris had his interview with Love Inc the next day and we were still unsure if it would work out. At 8:30 on Wednesday morning, Chris got a phone call from a man named Harley Yoder. He and his wife were getting ready to sell their farm and he had heard, from Mr. Beiler, that we were looking for a farm. Would we like to come and look at it? Yes! We went on Saturday to a beautiful farm at the end of a private road on 37 acres. We fell in love. His price is very reasonable, even a little below tax assessed value, but what can we really afford? If I could just keep working, it wouldn’t be as worrisome, but next summer, I will, once again, be a stay home Mom to raise our newest addition due sometime in early July. As I stood there looking at the place, thinking of how we could add a bathroom to the house (there is only 1), maybe even another bedroom since there will be 7 of us living there and there are currently 4 bedrooms that are on the smaller side, and how we would maintain the property, I became overwhelmed. We don’t even have a lawnmower right now! What are we doing?!?! Maybe this vision is for much later in life and we should just find a house for our family and focus on raising our children.
God answered us on Sunday. Out of nowhere, our church secretary, gave Chris a check. She said that when we shared our testimony and vision a few weeks ago, there was a visitor there from Harrisonburg and they mailed the check to us at church. I couldn’t believe it. In the very moment I was questioning the whole vision, a timely donation was just the confirmation and encouragement that I needed. I have no idea who the person is that sent us the check, but I hope they know how much it means to us. It is our first monetary donation and now we need to open a bank account in the ministry name – Risen Ridge Farm. Thank you God, for knowing our hearts and for your perfect timing.
As I sit here tonight, proofreading this passage, I am planning and learning. How do we officially start a non-profit organization? We need to get a business bank account. I need to work on a web site. How are we going to purchase this property? Are there grants available to help us with it? When I start to question, I am reminded of Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. He’s got this!!! We just need to be patient and obedient.