When the Dream is Bigger than the Dreamer

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There are moments when I just have to sit down and process all that is happening in me and at the Ranch. There are so many thoughts, so many emotions swirling through my heart and mind that I have to carve out time to look at what it is that I’m truly experiencing and feeling.

I started off the year at a high because, together with our amazing Champions, we raised $40,000 in 8 weeks to build a barn for Bright Side. It was a season of connecting with dear ones, having meaningful conversations, praying over our Champions, and thanking and praising God for all He was accomplishing. I can barely put into words what those days and months were like. They brought life, joy, momentum, and excitement.

And, then the in-between season hit. In the real, physical sense, it was the time of year when it’s not quite winter anymore but it’s not quite spring yet. It was the time of year when it’s freezing cold one moment and blazing hot the next. In the emotional sense, for me, it was a season of waiting and wondering and preparing. We had raised the funds for the barn, but the weather was too rainy and the ground was too wet to create the pad to build upon. We were training new mentors and gearing up horses for a new session season, but the start was delayed because of the weather. We had just raised $40,000 in 8 weeks, but we were wondering if we’d have enough funds each month to take care of the horses and keep things running. It was far too easy for me to allow the few delays and a dry financial season to invade my outlook and attitude.

I even began to question God’s faithfulness at times. In my head I completely understood how ridiculous that was. I mean, God has proven over and over and over again how amazingly faithful He is. He’s provided miracle after miracle to make this Ranch happen and bring people and resources together. He’s shaping me and molding me into who He needs me to be, and He has always done so with a tender, loving hand. Yet, my heart felt so differently. I was doubting He would show up again. It’s times like that where a piece of an old hymn rings through my heart: “Bind my wandering heart to Thee.”

So, I kept praying. I prayed at first for miracles and for His timing to match my own. Then, slowly (very slowly), my prayers started to change. I came to a point where I realized I was asking for a miracle in a grandiose form when He was offering small mercies everyday.

As I was waiting for the rain to stop so we could build, the pastures were growing lush, green grass. As I was training new mentors and getting to know their stories, I saw how God could use broken pasts to heal present hurts. As I wondered anxiously about funds each month, I saw that cutting back to what really matters was a good reminder of stewardship.

Then, as my heart changed to be more in line with His, and I put forth effort to see how He was always at work and is still at work, my attitude and outlook changed too. And, the ground dried long enough to pile up dirt for a pad for the barn. Sessions started with mentors and horses ready to go. And, there were some surprising, generous gifts that helped us get hay and feed.

Someone recently asked me: “What does Bright Side Youth Ranch mean to you?” For me, it means so many things that I have trouble narrowing it down. It’s the way God has stretched me and taught me and revealed so much of His character to me. It’s where I’ve learned to be a leader even when it’s hard or I don’t want to be. It’s where I’ve had to lean on Devin as we lean on Jesus together. It’s where we’ve met (and continue to meet) amazing people who have given their time, talents, and treasures or who have shared their children and families with us. It’s where I’ve seen God speak boldly and loudly through astounding miracles and where He’s whispered tenderly and quietly through sweet moments only He could bring about. It’s where I’ve learned that this dream wasn’t mine to begin with and isn’t just for me or my family. It’s where it is a starting point for other dreamers too. It’s where I get to see others connect with Jesus and grow in their relationship with Him.

For me, it’s a dream come true. A dream that I thought was just mine and just for me. A dream that I now know was His in the first place that He allowed me to dream with Him. A dream He wants to be offered to others so that they can dream with Him too.

It’s a dream that’s bigger than this little dreamer. And I couldn’t be more satisfied in that.

A Mentor's Perspective

My first season at Bright Side wrapped up back in October but I still find myself waking up every Saturday with horses and kids on the brain. It is like my circadian rhythm reset to ranch time. I have thought long and hard about how I wish to reflect on my season. I want to really paint a picture of what it is like to spend hours with one child and one horse and see God work. I want to clearly communicate how amazing it is to be used by God to change a child’s life. I want to somehow bear my heart and show just how much one season of mentoring actually changed me, the mentor.

            At our annual Bet on Bright Side event back in May, I shared briefly about my first six weeks with the ranch. I remember expressing the fear that I had felt that very first morning. I got to the ranch early to ‘pray circles’ around the ranch and my sessions. I nervously joined hands with Devin and Tia as we prayed for God’s blessing as we jumped into our season. And then it started. From the moment that I met my first kid, I felt completely powerless but oddly at peace. At that moment I knew that God was in total control and it was a relief to be able to dwell in his wisdom and listen for his guidance. Over the next several months we dealt with rain, flat tires, injured horses, crazy South Carolina heat, and tired kids. It was easy to get discouraged but it was also easy to see God at work.

            Each child that comes to the ranch brings different barriers and struggles. Just when you think you know a child they can easily throw you for a loop. I guess that is what makes this so much fun! During sessions, I would sometimes find myself over-explaining and overcompensating for a struggle I just assumed that one of my kids would have. It was those moments when they would say, “Ms. Olivia… Can I just do it?” I would then hand over the reins (sometimes literally!) and watch in amazement as confidence, self-control, and excitement poured out of them. Those were the moments I thought, “Wow! Look what God is doing!” Because there is no way I was capable of instilling that kind change in a child.

            While God was working on my kids he was also working on me. Have you ever been outside of your comfort zone but then realized that that was exactly where you needed to be to cope with a situation? Well, that was me this summer. Back in June my husband and I experienced a devastating loss. I ended up taking two weeks away from the ranch and my kids just to try and deal with what we were experiencing. But after two weeks I knew that I needed to get back out there. It was going to be hard but I needed to do it. It was during that first Saturday back that Brightside became a safe place for my soul. It is hard to explain the peace that I felt. It was almost as if God was using that breeze, those trees, those horses, and my sweet kids to mend my heart. I was exactly where I needed to be.

            All in all, my first season at Bright Side was absolutely amazing. To hear a young child say, “Ever since coming here I don’t want to hurt myself anymore. I know that I am special and wanted” will completely rock your world. While I could go on for hours about specific situations and conversations it all boils down to one thing; when you empty yourself of preconceived notions, fears, and insecurities it gives God space to dwell and move inside of you. My kids did not learn because of lessons I taught or words that I spoke, they learned because there is a God who loves them and wants the best for them. I was just a vessel for that message.

- Olivia

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Centered

How are we almost through January already? Weren’t we just celebrating Christmas and ringing in 2018? We’ve had some ups and downs in this first month of the new year, but in this moment, I’m choosing to hold tightly to the joys and blessings. Mainly, we are celebrating and praising God for meeting the financial goal of Bright Side’s Building Hope matching gift campaign. We were so moved by the generosity of so many and how God continues to provide for the ministry of the ranch.

This gift, among others, is a reflection of who God is and what His character is like; yet, it’s so easy to begin to focus on the gifts rather than the Giver. I find myself easily recounting and retelling of all that God has done for me and all that He has provided instead of simply sharing about and enjoying God for who He is. I didn’t even realize that I was taking how God is showing me who He is through those gifts and making it all about me by focusing on those blessings rather than the Source.

So, in 2018, my one word focus is CENTERED. I need to be centered on my Lord and not just all I have and can receive from Him. My source of strength and my identity needs to be found in Him and not what I can accomplish on my own. Being centered in Jesus reminds me to praise the Giver and not just rejoice in the gifts.

Remember how I briefly mentioned we’ve also had some challenges this month? To just name a couple, I’ve had the flu and a sinus infection, we’ve at one point had both cars out of commission, and some things just haven’t gone as expected. It’s so easy to slip into a state of stress and worry when circumstances in life don’t go the way we’ve planned or even when I get my own self into a situation that’s less than ideal. We can be weighed down those feelings of helplessness, and, as for me, I’ll try to start to take control or deal with it all on my own. But, I just make more of a mess of things when I do that. So, that’s where being centered comes in again. When my heart is centered on Jesus, I know that He can give me strength and peace to face the twists and turns in life. I know that He doesn’t leave me to deal with all of it on my own and that I can depend on Him to see me through to the other side.

It’s interesting that in the midst of all this the kids recently picked out the story of Job to read in our Action Bible one night. They had never fully heard it or read it before and were curious about it. So, we read the story together. Leyton and Brynley couldn’t believe all that Job went through - how he was first surrounded by blessings and gifts and large numbers of stuff and people in his life, only to have that all taken away. Yet, even without all the gifts and stuff he once had in his life, Job still praises the Lord. He says in Job 13:14, “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in Him.” It was a great opportunity to talk as a family that Jesus deserves our praise, not because of what He has given us but because of who He is.

The start of 2018 has brought joys and trials, and in either or both, we will be centered on Jesus and praise His name.

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Unbecoming Wonder Woman

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As a child, I loved watching the old episodes of Wonder Woman. I’ve always enjoyed the movies and tv shows of superheroes (which has served me well as a mom of an 11-year-old boy), but Wonder Woman has always remained my favorite. Her fierce spirit, self-confidence, battle training, compassion for those less fortunate, and ability to take the bad guys out completely on her own draws me into her story. And, perhaps, I try to find connections with my own independence, my own need to right the wrongs, and my own desire for inner strength.

However, just this past week, I found the limits of my strength. I tried to lift something beyond my capacity to do so and ended up pulling ligaments in my back. The pain and the process of healing has required me to rest and allow others to step in and help. I’m not good with asking for help, so this is a chance to grow, right? I like working with others and don’t mind sharing the load, but allowing others to completely take over and do what I currently cannot do is something I definitely struggle with. Does this mean that I think too highly of my own abilities? Maybe. I can be prideful and stubborn in my own way at times. However, I believe this has more to do with guilt. I feel guilty that I’m not doing what I believe is my responsibility. I mean, shouldn’t I be out there with those who are laboring away on the ranch? Or even inside the house. Shouldn’t I be doing the dishes and laundry and making dinner? Ugh, it’s so hard to just sit and feel like I’m being waited on. Apparently, I like being busy and that’s probably a problem. It might mean that I’m finding my identity in productivity.

My identity needs to be sourced in the One who made me and seeks an ongoing relationship with me. Not in what I can and cannot do each day. It seems so easy, doesn’t it? This just resting in whose I am rather than what I can produce. Then, why is it so hard to walk out? And every time I try harder to push away the guilty feelings and the need to jump in, it seems like those just compound in my mind and get worse. And that’s because I’m trying to do it all on my own...yet again. So, I’m sitting down and resting. I’m asking God to give me a different sort of strength - the strength to find my identity in Him and to let others step in and help.

This wannabe Wonder Woman is setting down the metal cuffs, the battle shield, and the lasso for now and letting someone else take up the sword for a while. Does Wonder Woman ever take a vacation? I don’t know, but this one is. Maybe this is a good time to catch up on some superhero shows.

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LEARNING TO GRIEVE

Back in 2004, Devin and I were living in Stafford, Virginia, and traveled back to our previous home in Lexington, Kentucky, to visit friends and gain some continuing education training. Because we were staying with friends who had property, we ended up taking our 2 dogs, Tucker and Ellie, along with us. At that time, my friend was a foster home for a small Jack Russell terrier who was looking for a new home. I fell in love with the tiny dog immediately and thought it would be fun to adopt her, but Devin drew the line at already having 2 dogs, so that was a no-go. The next few days went by, and we continued to hear Lola’s story unfold. She was apparently found wandering the streets and was picked up and sent through a Jack Russell terrier rescue. She was adopted out – twice – and was returned – twice. By this time, Lola was confused about housebreaking, trusting people, and knowing how to live under other’s expectations. However sad her story was, I saw something pretty amazing starting to take shape. Ellie, our own Jack Russell, was looking after Lola. She would allow Lola to follow right behind her and kept showing her how to be a dog. Then, as Devin and I packed up to return home, we didn’t see Ellie right away. As we looked around for her, we saw Ellie sitting right beside Lola, refusing to move until Devin and I agreed to adopt Lola and bring her into our little pack family.

The transition home was hard. Lola got car sick, was a nervous wreck, and struggled to understand all that we tried to teach her. She found comfort in Ellie, who continued to show her how to be a dog and find routine. We eventually sought help in the form of dog training classes and ended up with Lola having perfect attendance and being the most improved. J She was never the sharpest or the smartest in our little crew, but she was certainly the sweetest. In time, she figured her place and became more confident in living with humans and other dogs.

Over the next few years, we had children and said goodbye to Tucker and Ellie. While losing her best friend who showed her how to live and operate was a challenge, Lola was still kind, sweet, and patient, especially with a little Brynley who loved to carry her and dress her up.

Lola eventually helped us welcome a small smooth collie puppy named Paisley into our pack, and though she never wanted to play with Paisley, Lola never lost her happy, upbeat outlook on the world. She was also part of the move to start Bright Side, and though her eyesight and health were starting to decline, she loved all that living on a farm could offer.

Fast forward to recent months, Lola’s health was really starting to go downhill, although she still retained her Jack Russell terrier – nothing can stop me attitude. She was in renal failure, couldn’t see very well, was mostly deaf, and lost control of some bodily functions; but she kept welcoming us with the wag of her tail and was still eager to go outside to bark at whatever moved.

There were moments when caring for an aging animal was a chore and an effort. I distinctly remember Brynley asking me at one point, as we were cleaning up after Lola yet again, “Mom, can we trade her in for a younger dog?”  While I saw the humor in the casual statement of a young child, I also saw the opportunity for a teachable moment. I told her how we don’t just let go and pass off part of our family just because they’re old and can’t take care of themselves anymore. I reminded her of all the times Lola had patiently “played” dress up with her and recounted all the love Lola had given us through the years. Something must have stuck, because from that point on, Brynley was one of Lola’s primary caretakers as health issues continued to arise.

Although there were times when her obnoxious, neurotic behavior could be annoying, there was nothing that could bring a smile quicker to our faces than mentioning Lola’s name. She was just simply hilarious.

Until this week. I saw it coming. I tried to deny it and think she was just having a bad day. Or a bad couple of days. Or even a bad week. However, by Saturday, I knew the time to say goodbye to an old friend was quickly approaching. She went from happy-go-lucky to despondent, confused, unsteady, and weak. She was refusing food, even treats, and not even interested in water. The end was near. I knew I needed to call the vet on Monday and set up an appointment. However, even though I know euthanasia is a humane process, I really just wanted her to go rest peacefully at home.

And she did. I found her Sunday morning in her bed. There was no sign of struggle or difficulties. She had passed in her sleep at some point early in the morning.

And then came the task of sharing the news with the rest of the family. While we all grieve differently and were certainly sadden by the loss of Lola, Brynley took it the hardest. She wept and wept over her missing friend.

Because it was a Sunday morning, we had to gather ourselves for our responsibilities on the farm and at church, with the understanding we would come back and have a burial service after lunch. So we went on with heavy hearts. There were fits of tears throughout the morning, along with moments of explaining to others we had lost a part of our family.

After lunch, we gathered around the hole in the ground by a large tree in our backyard and placed Lola’s box down in. We shared good memories and how the silly little dog made us laugh, and then we covered her up. Many more tears were shed as we said our final goodbye to the 16-year-old Jack Russell named Lola.

As I continued to pick up and clean all the parts that were a part of Lola’s life in our household, I kept thinking how blessed we are. We are so blessed that we have animals in our lives who help teach us to love and give, even when it’s not convenient or easy. I’m so glad that we have pets to be a physical reminder to our children that they are not alone and that they are loved. We’re so blessed that our children get a chance to learn how to grieve in a healthy way through this process. Some say that an animal’s life is too short, so don’t even embark on handing out your heart to it. Some others don’t get pets because they leave hair everywhere and require too much work. There are even some who don’t want to walk through the hard parts of having an aging pet and so hand them off to others or have them put down way too early.

We’re all in different situations, and certainly, we have our own boundaries of what we can and cannot do for our animals financially. But, there’s not a moment when I regret having animals surround us. Not a moment goes by where I don’t appreciate how my daughter’s heart has learned how to love deeply and unconditionally through the presences of animals. There’s not a time where I wish my son wasn’t learning the hard work that comes from caring for things outside of ourselves.

It’s hard, this losing a four-legged family member. It’s not easy whether the time was short or long. But it’s good in its own way. We know there was love, both given and received. And we know we are better for it.

So, we are in the process of teaching our children it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to mourn the loss of a friend, even when that friend had four legs. It’s also okay to laugh at a funny memory that suddenly pops in your head as you recall the little JRT. It’s also okay to sing, “Lola, she was a showgirl,” and smile as the picture of Lola dressed in a crown and a tutu passes through a social media feed. And, it’s certainly okay to stop by her marker and say thank you for the memories and love.

Yep, we’re learning how to grieve.

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What Really Matters

As Executive Director at Bright Side, one of the many aspects of my job is to speak with families who are interested in their child coming to the ranch. It is a privilege to hear their stories and help them walk through what their time at the ranch might be like. It's also incredibly heartbreaking to know the pain that so many children have experienced at such young ages.

Recently, I had a phone call with a grandmother who was very concerned for her granddaughter. The nine-year-old girl has experienced a broken home and toxic relationships, so much so that she has been self-harming and even considered suicide. The grandmother, out of a deep concern and love for the sweet young girl, wants her to have a safe place to be. She wants her to experience a positive environment where love and joy can surround her instead of despair, heartache, and verbal abuse.

As I listened to the story of this 9-year-old unfold, I kept thinking about my own young daughter at home, who is almost 9 herself. And the main thought that kept circling through my mind is that this other girl is just that – a little girl. She's just a little girl who wants a place that's safe and loving where she can brush a horse and breathe in fresh air. A place where someone listens and can help her see what a treasure she truly is. A place where she can have space to think and be herself and find hope.

In running a nonprofit, it's sometimes easy to have a divided attention that gets caught up in how many children were coming to the ranch this year, how many Sessions and Round Ups we held, how many volunteers or mentors come out or are in training, how many board members we’re adding to the team, and how our funding needs are getting met each month. But, after a phone call like that I am fully reminded that this is what Bright Side is all about. It's about being there for that one child who has nowhere else to go and feels alone. It's about reminding her she was created in the image of God and that she is not a mistake. It’s about telling her there is a purpose and a plan for her life and that there is hope.

In the process of the conversation with this grandmother, I gently reminded her that Bright Side is a faith-based organization. I told her that while we do not push religion down a child's throat, we do point out that ultimate hope is found in Jesus. And she said "that's OK. I'm a seventh day Adventist, and while we may not agree on some things, we can certainly agree that there is hope in Jesus. And that's what I want my granddaughter to know - that there is hope."

And that’s what really matters: one child connecting with one mentor and one horse and discovering there is hope. Hope that there is more than what she has experienced. Hope that something good is ahead and not all of life is filled with pain. Hope that she does not walk this rough path alone. Hope that there is One who sees her, knows her, hears her and cares for her. One who brings light to the darkness and covers her with his wings.

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Echoes of Hope

This past Saturday, Bright Side had the privilege to hold a Round Up for a group of teens from Rock Hill’s Children’s Attention Home. Round Ups are something that we started last year to provide a group experience at the ranch for those who are unable to send their kids individually for our mentoring sessions or feel that bringing a group is a fun way to expose their kids and teens to Bright Side. These 12 teens who came out to the ranch have one or both parents incarcerated and have faced many challenges in their young years. Very few of them had ever been around a horse or fished before, so the whole morning was filled with new experiences for them. This group spent over 3 hours fishing in the pond (which includes learning to bait a hook), brushing horses, learning about the power of words, painting ponies, chomping through a pie eating contest, and hearing that while others may fail you in life, Jesus never will. It was a beautiful morning filled with laughter, smiles, and excitement – and I was thrilled to play a part and serve along with some amazing volunteers who loved on those kids.

The following Monday morning, we received this from the director of the Children’s Attention Home:

“Just wanted to connect with you all and let you know that our kids THOROUGHLY enjoyed the event on Saturday. It was the topic of discussion at Breakfast today and EVERYONE agreed that this was the best event EVER!!

Thanks a bunch for all you do to support the children.”

Yep, I was in tears. To see that Bright Side was able to provide a shining moment in their lives and point to the ultimate Hope – how beautiful.

As I mentioned briefly, we worked with the horses some and talked about how building trust in a relationship is a two-way street and how words build worlds. So, painted on the horses and wrote words that inspire, encourage, empower, and motivate. We were to wash the horses off after we were all done, however, there was so much commotion over the desire to catch one of the giant carp in the pond, the horses ended up being washed off after the kids departed and the ranch was quiet.

I looked out in the field to where Evan and Luna were out grazing with the kids’ words still emblazoned on their sides and saw the word HOPE shining like a beacon. After the exciting whirlwind of a Round Up and long after everything was picked up and put away, Hope remained. It lingered and echoed well past the boundaries of the fences of the ranch. It resonated in my heart and continued its song in the hearts of the kids who experienced love and joy and support.

On this same morning, I spoke with a mom whose daughter has been coming to the ranch for mentoring sessions. This young girl of 11 has dealt with such heartache, abandonment, and grief that she struggles with depression and self-harming. In asking her mother how things at home were coming along, she shared that her daughter loves the ranch and her time with the mentor and the horses. In fact, she’s more at peace than ever and hasn’t been self-harming since coming to Bright Side.

The beginnings of hope. Being pointed to the ultimate One who never fails, never abandons, never stops pursuing. And may that hope linger and echo in her heart too, long after the dust of the arena settles and the smell of horse and leather are washed out of her clothes. May she recall that she is loved, that there is joy, and there is Jesus who can walk with her through it all.

As I was washing the horses, it was tempting to leave the brightly lettered HOPE on Luna’s shoulder. But, I didn’t think she needed the reminder as much as we often do. So, no worries, the horses are paint-free and ready to be a canvas again for the next Round Up. They are such wonderful vessels for communicating so much about life, relationships with others, learning to see ourselves in a new light, and seeing God as one who wants to do life with us. They are our Agents of Hope in this dark world and help the ranch to keep the echo of Hope alive.

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A Labor of Love

Here at Bright Side Youth Ranch, we seek to inspire the next generation toward Hope, and the primary way we do so is through Sessions. In our Sessions, children and teens in crisis between the ages 8 to 18 come weekly to work with a Mentor and a horse. These individualized sessions are positive and powerful for these hurting kids.

It’s the combination of all three elements – the child, the mentor and the horse – coming together that makes Sessions at Bright Side both unique and impactful. Our Mentors are a vital connecting point, and we are blessed with some amazing people on our team and in training. They help children and teens develop MENTALLY through problem-solving, PHYSICALLY through ranch chores and exercise outdoors, SPIRITUALLY through conversations about God and faith, SOCIALLY through relationships, and EMOTIONALLY through empathy and a connection with a horse.

In this equation of three elements, if the Child is at the heart of what we do and the Mentor is the guide, then the Horse is the hinge-point that ties everything together. Horses are uniquely designed to mirror our emotions and reflect the positive effects of building a relationship founded on trust. They are meant to dwell in community and use body language primarily in expressing and receiving communication. They read our intentions clearly, and there is no way to lie or hide from a horse. They teach us how to be clear, concise, and assertive rather than aggressive, despondent, disconnected or passive. Working with horses provides countless teachable moments that mentors can use to help kids discover more about themselves, other people, relationships, the world around them and the Author of Hope who seeks to give them strength, love, and a future.

And, working with horses is exactly that – work. It’s fun and rewarding, but it certainly isn’t easy. It’s hard work, and often many things associated with horses are HEAVY (i.e. hay, water tanks, feed bags, filled muck tubs, etc.), but it’s not beyond the capacity of an 8-year-old to learn to care for a horse. It’s the kind of labor that may be challenging in the moment, but it becomes so fulfilling to see a picked-up field, an algae-free tank, or a cleaned-up horse. So many children and teens today can benefit from time outside and learn how to see the horse as more than just an animal and more of a partner in their personal growth and development. A recent study found that just simply brushing the horse for 30 minutes once a week for 10 weeks dramatically reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in kids and teens.

So, the part of the Sessions that is so special is working with a horse. And the horses here at the Ranch are precious to us. They each have a story of their own and an individual personality that connects with various personalities of the children they work with. They all (with the exception of one) are on the older side, and they all had previous careers (or multiple owners and multiple careers). They all have a physical ailment that limits a performance career (except for Luna) but by no means keeps them from being able to continue to love, give, and teach.

Alex, previously my horse, once competed in A Show Hunters, jumper classes, and even evented for a time. He’s traveled all over the country with me both for competition and because I was sometimes on the move. He gave me the opportunity to ride at a higher level and taught me so much, including how to trust and be brave. He pulled a suspensory tendon at one point, but bounced back, never wavering from his love of competing and jumping through it all.  Then, he had a career ending bought with EPM and was never quite sound enough to jump or compete again. I was stuck with a horse that could do limited flat work and only do occasional small jumps when the EPM wasn’t flaring up. He taught me that loving and caring for an animal isn’t just when it’s easy and they are fun and producing ribbons and wins but also when it’s difficult and painful and they can no longer compete. He has shown me the beautiful connection of growing old and moving into new phases of life together. And, anywhere else, a horse with EPM would not be wanted – the soundness issues are too iffy and sometimes too costly. But, here he is…at Bright Side Youth Ranch…loving on kids and teens. He is a steady-eddy that handles the more extremes of anger and frustration and distrust like a champ. He is not easily ruffled and will completely ignore negative emotions until the participant learns to work through their feelings and settle. Then, Alex comes through and does exactly what he should. It’s honestly quite interesting and sometimes a little funny when he reads people so well!

And, that’s just Alex’s story. Lexi, the sweetest, kindest soul has a story of her own and offers the best hugs and a listening ear to those who are fragile and hurting. Princess, while sometimes stubborn and a tad lazy, knows her job and absolutely adores children. With her allergies, itchiness, and sometimes gassiness, she can crack a smile from the hardest heart. Luna is a little more of a challenge in the programs, but she reminds us to never give up and to continue to problem solve. And, Evan… well, he’s Evan. He’s the star, the class clown, the entertainer, and a steadfast partner. He makes you laugh, smile, roll your eyes, and even take a big sigh of relief because he’s so trustworthy.

In case you can’t tell, these horses are precious to us at Bright Side. And, we take their care very seriously. We do our best to make sure they stay healthy and happy so that they can give their best in sessions and because they deserve a place to feel loved and cared for, just as our participants do.

There is no higher compliment than to hear from previous owners who have donated their precious gifts to the ranch and have them say, “He/she looks great,” or “I’m so happy they have a home at Bright Side.” It is an honor and privilege to care for these Angels in Horsehair, even as their ages and ailments require more labors of love. Bright Side wouldn’t be Bright Side Youth Ranch without them.

You can help the Ranch keep these horses and ponies feeling their best by giving here.

picture above taken by Alisha McCarthy

Over the Hill

My birthday was just a few days ago. It was a milestone one. The big 4-0. It’s the one that has been looming over me since I turned 39 last year, and I’ve been hesitant to see the number hit a whole new decade. Prior to this year, I didn’t often think of my age. I spend so much time around kids and teens that there are moments where I feel younger than the number assigned to my age. On the other hand, there are times when my metabolism and energy levels remind me that I’m not as young as I used to be. This year, I’ve been well aware of my age, even though I’ve tried to ignore it. I mean, 40 seems old. I can’t be old, right? Really, I don’t want to be tagged as old. I may not be at the fitness and weight goals that I’ve set out to meet, but I don’t feel old. However, I’m sure my own children along with those that I serve will remind me that being 40 is definitely not considered young and hip.

So, time to face the reality. I’m 40. While parts of me still cringe at that statement, being 40 comes with many years of seeing God at work and many adventures, lessons, and blessings. It means I’ve been on this earth long enough to see sorrow transformed into joy and dreams become reality. I’ve started to see how all the pieces of my life can be woven together into His beautiful story. I’ve seen the brokenness of this fallen world and witnessed God at work to bring hope to the dark places. I’ve known life without a husband and kids, and I’ve known the challenges and fulfillment of those deep, precious relationships. I’ve grown up and spent the first part of my life in the same town and in the same house. I’ve also lived in many states and seen friends become true family. I’ve done hard, difficult things, and I’ve had seasons of rest. I’ve experienced dry seasons and seasons overflowing with God’s presence. I’ve felt distant from God and seen His enduring faithfulness. I know His steadfast love.

And while I’m hitting a new number and another decade, I know there’s still so much more ahead. Being in my 40’s will bring another set of joys and challenges, and the Lord is still completing His work in me. He will continue to be my rock and my fortress as I continue to see how my small part in His great story plays out.

 

 

Gathering Change for Change

Each week, I feel so privileged to hear the heart and stories of the session participants and their families. Recently, I was spending time with a 10-year-old girl who was volunteering at the ranch and has also come periodically as a participant. After completing chores and while brushing and loving on Luna (one of the ponies), she shared much of her background and talked of her struggles. It was the most open, honest, and raw conversation I’ve ever had with her, and my heart broke as she told me of her past.

This sweet girl who was once so quiet and shy spoke about how her parents (separated now) were never married and that she has two other younger siblings who also come from relationships with two other men (both of which were not married to her mother). She opened up about her struggles to gain her mom’s attention and win her love, all to no avail since the mother only has eyes for the youngest of the three. This young lady stood squarely and spoke bluntly. She remained matter-of-fact and unemotional as I was on the verge of tears for all the heartache she has already faced in such a short amount of time.

However, she didn’t share all of her personal information for her own benefit. She used it as a launching point to tell me about her middle brother. The brother who is “not in a good place,” as she described. “He’s angry and not making good choices,” she said. She told me that their grandmother tries to step in and help when she can and even pays for many of their needs and wants. “But, he needs someone else to help him,” she told me.

And then this formerly timid girl shared: “I have loved coming out here and have learned a lot working with the horses. My brother’s not sure about horses, although he thinks they’re kinda cool. I think this would be good for him, though. And I want him to come out here. But, I don’t want my grandma having to pay for it; I want to pay for it. I know a session costs $20, and, so far, I’ve saved up 19 dollars and 45 cents. I’ll get the rest soon, and then I want him to come out here and have the ranch do for him what it has done for me.”

As I’m sure you can imagine, while I held my emotions in check for the rest of our conversation, I eventually broke down and wept. I sobbed over the absolute heartbreak these kids are experiencing (and will continue to experience). I cried over her amazing selflessness in wanting to offer help to her brother. And, tears of joy overflowed as I praised the Lord for the process of growth in her own life during her short time at Bright Side.

Some days, the steps towards hope and healing seem incremental. And then there are other days like this one where strength, purpose, and hope are radiating out in overwhelming brilliance.

Surrounded by Champions

In my mind, thoughts are always spinning. They flutter between what has to be done in the here and now and what is planned for the near and far future. So, focused thoughts on tasks to be done today and this week (along with connecting with people) play tug of war with what’s planned in the next couple of months and this year. And then, there’s the never-ending wish list of what takes years to build, but we long for now, such as a bigger ranch team, more sessions, and additional structures. All of these things are great and definitely worth mulling over, it just means that my brain is busy most of the time and learning to shut down all of that motion in order to reflect takes intentionality.

I’m so excited about this year, especially since Olivia and Candace are taking on sessions as mentors, and it’s not just me anymore. How wonderful to have amazing team members for the ranch who care so deeply about the next generation and want to share the Hope Jesus offers! It feels so good to multiply these mentoring opportunities, and I know the more mentors we have on board, the more opportunities we can create for kids and teens to be introduced to Jesus and to take steps in their personal growth and healing.

In all of the excitement in gearing up and starting sessions for this third year of ministry, I’ve been able to soak in some wonderful moments and reflect on where we’ve been and how far we’ve come already. Here’s some of what’s happened:

  • 2 years ago, the first fence post was placed.
  • 1 year and 8 months ago, the first two horses came to the ranch.
  • 1 year and 6 months ago, the first participant came to the ranch for the very first session.
  • In that first year, we had over 100 volunteers, over 100 donors, 15 sessions in 2 short months, 1 mission team come to the ranch, and we built three paddocks, a dry lot, and a run-in shelter.            
  • 1 year ago, we started the first full session season.
  • 9 months ago, we brought on 2 ponies to add to the herd.
  • 6 months ago, we held our first Round Up that reached 13 at-risk kids and teens.
  • In that second year, we had over 120 volunteers, over 200 donors, 125 sessions, 35 participants in sessions, 2 mission teams serve at the Ranch, and built a guest area, riding arena, a round pen, ran electricity, and solved a mud/water drainage issue.

Everything at the ranch looks so different from where we’ve started, and that’s just the land, structures, and horses. And, we didn’t do this alone. We’ve been blessed by all the people who are behind the scenes – we like to call these amazing people Champions. Champions? Yes, Champions. A Champion can be anyone who gives of their time, talent or treasure to help further the cause of inspiring the next generation toward Hope. So, the person who helped place fence posts or scoop poop in the fields or mow grass? A Champion. The ones who have given us countless hours of coaching, praying, graphic design, mentoring or printing? A Champion. And those who have given $1 or $1000 or who have donated hay or tack  or who have let us borrow their equipment or truck? Yep, definitely Champions. Each one of those examples (and so many others) are part of what it means to be a Champion for the ranch. Without our Champions, there would be no Bright Side, that’s for sure. In these start-up years, the ranch has been fully funded by individuals and created by volunteers. Other than what only large equipment can do (such as grading for the arena), every structure at Bright Side was built by volunteers. And, the programs are made possible through individuals and families who give sacrificially so see others find Hope.

Bright Side is an organization that is rooted in, surrounded by, and built through Champions. We love them and are ever so grateful for them. And we see each name, face, and heart and praise the Lord for their compassion, efforts, and passion.

So, you may think Tia or Devin are special, but really it’s our Champions that make it all possible. And the One behind all of it, weaving it all together in a beautiful tapestry? He’s the foundation of it all, the ultimate source of anything good that is happening over here.

We just want to make ourselves available to Him.

So, join me in celebrating where we’ve been; help me cheer on our Champions and praise the only One who is worthy. And, come along for the adventure of a new session season and all that God has in store for it. I can’t wait to see what He does this year and all the wonderful Champions who join in the work, and I’m excited to see the stories of hope that will come through the sessions this year.

Searching for the Right Word

As the holidays came to a close, I turned my heart and mind to the new year, as most people tend to do. I kept seeing friends posting their goals and resolutions on social media and had others asking me about my own. I was completely intrigued with the “one word” resolution and loved the thought of taking a long list and reducing it to a word or phrase. However, I had the hardest time coming up with my one word. How do I condense all that I want to see happen and all that I want to commit to doing into something short? Some of my friends had catchy ones like Create, Hustle, and Listen. My word became something much less striking, much less stellar and inspiring. My word for 2017 is Discipline.

See, I told you… not much fun. But, it makes sense for me. If you know my daughter Brynley at all, then you know she is a free spirit, full of life, spunk, and unstructured-ness (is that even a word?). In many ways, she takes after me, because I tend to lean in the relational/unstructured category as well. That’s why I thrive on routines. It’s really the only way I get anything done when it needs to happen. So, when I thought about changes or goals or new routines for 2017, I saw that some of them were just repeats from previous years – spend more time in prayer, cultivate a love for God’s Word, lose weight, drink more water, get in shape, etc. I start to sound like a broken record.

As most people, I dive into resolutions and goals at the beginning of the year and then lose track or let them slide somewhere along the way (usually by the time session season starts back up in March). I really don’t lack desire to meet those goals. I mean, I REALLY do want to be healthier, and I REALLY do want to have a deeper relationship with Jesus. I just couldn’t seem to stick with it all and make it happen.

Apparently, what I really lack and truly need in order to make changes is Discipline. Discipline helps me develop patterns and routines that help me with more consistent choices, which ultimately leads to new behaviors and habits. It just so happens that our pastor at church is preaching a series on Habits, so I think the Lord might be trying to tell me something.

For me, though, Discipline alone seems so dry. I mean, where’s the fun in that word? So, I’ve devised a few ways to add creativity into Discipline. For instance, I’ve put together a Faith Journal. In this little book, I’m writing down Bible verses, keeping track of prayers, and journaling notes and thoughts. I may not have a prayer closet like on the movie War Room, but this little book is becoming a treasured place to return again and again when I need to seek the Lord for strength, wisdom, or just simply thank Him for His blessings. Now, I’ve written in diaries and kept daily journals before. This is different. It’s more than just a reflection of my day or activities, it’s a launching pad for my faith and a place that helps me connect with the Lord. God’s word comes alive to me as I draw out prayers or paint scriptures. It helps me be excited about sitting still and listening to the Lord speak to my heart.

I waited for a while to finally post about my one word resolution and my Faith Journal, simply because I was a little uncomfortable about blogging on something so personal. And, honestly, I wasn’t sure I’d stick with it. But, as January comes to end, I’m still on track! Now that’s a cause for celebration!

We are past all the glitter and glam of a fresh new year now. I hope that as you really start to dive into 2017 that you find more of God’s faithfulness than you ever thought possible, that you experience His presence holding you close in challenging moments, and that you seek to know Him more deeply than ever before.

Who knows, maybe He’ll lead you to a one word too… just praying it doesn’t sound as boring as mine!!  

Not to Us

This past Saturday, we gathered together with volunteers, donors, partners, participants, families, friends, and guests to celebrate all the amazing things God has done this past year.

It’s so hard to believe that Bright Side’s second year of ministry is coming to a close, and yet, I feel so far away from the Nervous Nellie I was at the beginning of 2016. The first year was more than I had ever dreamed, and I was so anxious over year two. I didn’t know if we would see the same generosity and support, wondered how to make the most of the session program, guessed at growth, and lamented over my own shortcomings. There were so many moments over the last year where I told God, “I don’t know that you have the right person leading this organization. I know kids and horses, and that’s about it.” In response to my own misgivings, the Lord brought along exactly what was needed to help me grow personally and in turn help Bright Side develop a more solid foundation.

And while God has been shaping and molding me, He did an amazing work through all those who gave their time, talents, and treasures and through all the kids and teens that came to the ranch.

We began the year with a strategic plan (that our Board of Directors helped put together) and what we thought were lofty goals for 2016. For instance, in 2015, we had our very first (although quite short) session season with over 15 sessions. So, we set a goal of 75 sessions for 2016 and thought if we had about 10 kids on a regular basis that would be something to celebrate.

And, then God moves. We still have such a tiny sign out front at the ranch, and since we are still building teams and infrastructure, we have only advertised by word of mouth. All those things aside, we held 125 sessions in 2016 with 35 students, 15 of those part of regular, ongoing mentoring. WOW!

We also had plans for a riding arena this year. We thought that was dreaming big, and for us it was. But, through a special church and group of people in Ohio, God made it possible to have a riding arena AND a round pen this year.

God also placed before us a new opportunity of holding Round Ups. There are some groups and youth organizations that just aren’t able to send kids for one-on-one sessions but can come out to the ranch as a group. This past fall, a group of 13 students along with their leaders from the Children’s Attention Home in Rock Hill came out for a morning of fishing, working with the horses, painting ponies, learning about trust, and having a pie eating contest. For these kids, who have one or both parents in prison, this was an incredible day. Some of them had never fished before, and many of them had never been around a horse. How wonderful to share the ranch with this group, and we look forward to more Round Ups in the future.

We have been overwhelmed by His goodness and faithfulness and blessed by the generosity and support of so many. And, we have been moved by the kids and families that have participated in sessions at Bright Side.

We hope you enjoy this look back on all that has happened this year, and we thank you for partnering to inspire the next generation toward Hope.

"Not to us... but to Your name be the glory..." Psalm 115:1

Also, the drought has caused a greater need for hay that we originally budgeted. If you are interested in helping the horses and ponies at the ranch, please consider giving a gift today.

 

 

 

A Look at a Recent Session

It’s an incredible blessing to my heart to see that in just this year alone, we have held over 100 sessions at Bright Side!

How God continues to use the power of One Child, One Horse, and One Mentor coming together never ceases to amaze me. Each 8-18 year old is so different, and their interactions with each horse is so unique. And, how God chooses to speak through those relationships is incredibly dynamic. While those at the ranch often get to have a front row seat to how these moments play out, we don’t want to keep these details to ourselves. So many people and organizations have given their time, talents, and treasures to pave a way for these kids to experience these precious times, and we want you to see how you’ve help shaped their development.

So, here’s a story from a recent session we’d like to share with you:

A sixth grader has been in the session program at the ranch on an ongoing basis. Her parents originally signed her up because Bright Side represents the faith and values they want supported outside their home and because they wanted their daughter to spend some time outdoors and build her self-confidence. This sweet girl enjoys her time with the horses in each session but has been reluctant to move any faster than a walk. It’s partly because of fear of the unknown, and it’s partly wanting not wanting to lose control. She and her mentor set a goal of trotting by the end of this session season, and last week, her time came to try trotting on a pony. It was scary to try something new, but she did it! At one point, the pony sped up slightly, and the change in speed made her nervous. So her mentor took some time to talk over the topic of fear. They discussed some parts of her life that are currently causing her to feel anxious and worry, and they talked about how God gives us the strength we need to face each difficulty. The girl decided to try trotting again (possibly prompted by the mentor who told her they had to end the session with a smile), and she found it wasn’t as hard as she originally thought. She finished her session grinning from ear to ear. This young girl discovered that she was more capable than she originally imagined and that God walks (and trots) with us through the hard parts of life. This week, she was given a Character Award for Perseverance, because she is learning to not give up even when life gets hard. 

Coming Full Circle

- by Devin Tharp

August 18th was a powerful and emotional night for me. It was our final night together with a team of volunteers who have been working at the ranch all week from First UMC in Carrollton, Ohio. Carrollton is a small town in northeast Ohio populated mostly by farmers, blue collar hard workers and people who cherish the simple things in life. It’s a special place in my heart because it is the place I called home for the first 18 years of my life, and the place where my values were formed and my heart was shaped. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to host them for the week at the place I now call home—Bright Side Youth Ranch.  

The team worked tirelessly all week in the blazing August heat to construct a 60’ round pen. "What’s a round pen?” you ask. It’s a round enclosure that provides a safe and focussed space where horses can receive training. For us as the ranch, it also will serve as a place where horses and kids will connect and powerful conversations will be had. While the round pen was a structure that we dreamed of having one day at the ranch, it wasn’t in our plan as a part of this year’s budget or building projects.  But, sometimes our plans are not God’s plans.  You see, First UMC contacted us about sending a team to volunteer for a mission trip. Then, they told us they wanted to come and “build something.”  Since we didn’t have the funds or materials for another building project, we opted for a more unorthodox approach. We asked them to raise the funds needed to build the round pen and then offer their time and talents to do the work of constructing it. And, they did just that.  Not only did they build and construct the most beautiful round pen we’ve ever seen, but they also completed several other projects around the property that needed completion. Did I mention that they know how to work? We are absolutely thrilled with all the work they did and amazed at how much they accomplished in such a short amount of time.  

On our final night together, to close out our time, we met on the front porch of our home (which has served as a gathering place for many events at the ranch) to read some passages of scripture, pray and take holy communion together. While we’ve done many things on our front porch with volunteers at the ranch, communion was certainly not one of them. How sweet it was to remember that our bond together as individuals from different places, cultures and even churches was our connection to Jesus through his blood shed on the cross for each of us.  Due to his life, death and resurrection, we have all crossed over from death to life. Through him, we were not strangers but family.  And because of him, we have all been set free.  

After taking communion together, we walked into the center of the new round pen, circled together and held hands as we dedicated the round pen to the Lord. “How do we dedicate a round pen to the Lord?” you might wonder. Well, we simply pray and tell the Lord he is free to use the space that’s been built for his purposes and not our own. The prayer of dedication is more of a reminder for us than it is permission for the Lord. Everything we have is his and all the we posses already belongs to him. So, when we gathered to pray, we were simply reminding each of the Lord’s ownership of the new space.  

I loved having the team pray to dedicate the new space to the Lord.  Listening to their prayers for the work that God would do in the hearts of kids there, was encouraging to my heart. It’s a reminder to Tia and myself that the cause that we are upholding is larger than ourselves and others want to partner with us as we share hope with the next generation.  

As I looked around the circle of team members, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I made the connections with the people standing with me. One couple attended a church that I had preached in when I was just 18 years old. Now, over 20 years later, they were here at Bright Side working to make our ranch a place where the good news of Jesus could be shared.  Standing next to them were two people who served as my Sunday school teachers in 3 & 4th grade.  I had grown up with some of their kids and they even hosted youth group events at their house when I was a teenager. They had heard of what Tia and I were doing at the ranch and took the initiative to gather a team to come support us with their time and skills. And now, I was hosting them as we built together a place where teens can come to share their hurts and successes.  Next to them was the leader of the group and the pastor of the church who sent the team.  It was also the church where I grew up, went to Sunday school, heard about Jesus for the first time and even preached my very first sermon. And now, the leadership of the congregation was partnering with me to help accomplish the same thing that happened in my life through that church. Even though a lot of time has passed since I was a vital part of this small community in Ohio, God had enabled these long-term relationships to be the bridge that would connect them to Bright Side. And I am grateful.  

Why I love the Equestrian events at the Olympics

With the 2016 Olympics in full swing, I am loving the live streaming of the equestrian events. In the past, I’ve struggled with finding when the events would be aired and catching the latest team and individual standings. Now, I’m able to see it all. And, I’m thrilled! I’m aware that there are some who don’t enjoy the equestrian portions as much as I do, and that’s okay, because there are other events in the Olympic line up that I’m not partial to either. And I’ve heard complaints from others who who say that the equestrian events appear to be more about the horse’s fitness rather than the riders’. In the midst of all the conversations, I have a tendency to become very passionate about my views on the horse and rider combination in the Olympics, and here are some reasons why:

1.     The Rich History

While the gathering and celebration of athletes began in ancient Greece, the Olympic Games as we now know it were first held in 1896. Equestrian events became part of the line up in 1900 and (other than in 1904) have been in the summer Olympics ever since then. Of course, there were also horse and chariot races in the ancient Greek Olympic trials as well, so horses have been a tradition from an early start.

While some of the types of equestrian events have changed and evolved over the years, Eventing, Dressage, and Show Jumping have been constants. As these disciplines have a foundation in military movements and cavalry training, at one point in time, commissioned officers in the military were the only ones who could compete in these events. It was a way to show off the hard work, skills, and accomplishments of both horse and rider.

2.     The Incredible Partnership

To those who believe that it isn’t really fair that horses are allowed in the Olympics, because it appears to be about the horse’s fitness and ability and less about the riders, I offer you the opportunity to get on a 1200 pound animal who thinks and moves completely independently of you and convince it to perform precise and difficult movements, jump high and wide objects, and stay focused on the task at hand. You might just find it challenging enough to steer the horse where you want it to go, let alone have it compete against the tests set before you.

As far as the rider’s fitness, galloping a horse for close to 4 miles while jumping obstacles in eventing, leaping over 5 foot fences that can be around 6 feet wide in show jumping, and guiding a heavy bodied horse through the dancing movements of Dressage is no easy feat. It takes conditioning, training, and stamina, and requires clarity of mind, courage, and endurance.

The best combination of riders and horses are ones with a tight partnership and a deep connection. A foundation of trust and understanding make it possible to leap over and conquer the seemingly impossible.

3.     The Equality

Did you know that currently, the equestrian events are the only portions where men and women compete as equals at the Olympics? So crazy to think that is true in today’s day and age, but it’s one of the very few sports where “countries are free to choose the best riders and horses, regardless of gender.”

How beautiful to see that the tests of courses, jumps and patterns put men and women on equal footing, allow them to compete in the same fields and arenas, and end up having them stand on podiums together.

I also love the equality of age. There are more experienced riders in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s who bring their presence and collected calm to challenging tests, and there are young riders in their 20s and 30s who bring their enthusiasm and energy to the sport. To see the span of generations and learn from the greats and inexperienced alike, is a rare treasure.

4.     The Stories

But aren’t these events for the elite? That is true in some sense, because horses are expensive hobbies and pricey vocations, but just about any sport can cost a lot of money these days. And there are stories of horses and riders that defy the idea that it’s all only for the elite. We hear about the opportunities for a girl who didn’t grow up in a horsey home, start with backyard riding lessons, and didn’t have a lot of money to find a way to the top and represent the USA at the highest level of competition. We also see a horse of unknown pedigree (and owned by the Chilean army) take a confident and steady ride around the cross country course. And, we see a man in his late 40’s come from being in a coma less than 10 months prior and little hope of walking again to competing for his country with courage.

The horse world rewards hard work and effort. We cheer on those who hold their horse’s health and well-being above their own. We love to see a horse and rider combination rise from obscurity to center stage. And we love it when the desire to ride and compete motivates you to do what many others say is completely crazy.

5.     The Inspiration

My daughter Brynley has found a hero in swimmer Katie Ledecky and says she wants to compete in the Olympics like her one day. And, when I ask if she wants to swim in those future Olympics, she casually says, “No, I’m much better at riding, I think. I want to go with Princess the pony to the Olympics one day, and you can take us there in the truck and trailer.” She sees the other riders racing over cross country, dancing in Dressage, and leaping in show jumping, and she is completely motivated to take her pony and do the same.

And being a girl won’t matter. And having a family with little cash won’t matter. And starting with inexpensive horses and ponies won’t matter. She’s seen what it possible and is inspired that the same can be true for her.

 

And that is why I love the Equestrian portions of the Olympics.

When Waters Rage

Last week, our family vacationed along the beautiful white beaches of the Florida panhandle. Most days spent on the Gulf are filled with breathtakingly clear, calm water that you can float in for hours. However, toward the end of our week away, a hurricane in the southern portion of the Gulf transformed the drifting, tranquil water to raging waves and strong currents. At first, we found it exciting to see the white caps and entertaining to battle the 4 foot waves. However, after a few minutes of trying to withstand the pounding and push into the currents, it became extremely exhausting. I stood out in waist-deep water just trying to get past the breakers with my float. All I wanted to do was ride in on a couple of waves. But, as I would take a few steps forward, a big wave would come, and as I jumped up, I’d get pushed back several more steps. It seemed like I just couldn’t keep pushing ahead. I’d eventually make it to the breakers, but then I would be too tired to want to ride in a wave and start that process all over again. So, I’d hang out on my float for a moment of reprieve and then begin the battle to get back into position. It all felt so pointless at times, and I’d ask myself if this was all really worth the effort. But, then, the perfect wave came, I caught the right timing, and I coasted on top of the wild foam all the way onto the beach. It was thrilling and wonderful and fun, and I wanted to do it all over again. Until the next wave crashed on me, that is. Sometimes I was knocked around. Sometimes I wiped out. Sometimes I breathed in saltwater. Sometimes I experienced the thrill of riding a big wave. That’s how it went. While I missed the calm, clear water to float in, I would have never felt the moments of excitement without the raging waves.

While being pounded by the strength of wave after wave, I recalled how I felt earlier this year. I went through a difficult time personally (the Ranch was fine, I just struggled with my own insecurities and outside voices). I felt beaten down and defeated and often unable to push forward emotionally through that time. It was like I was standing on my toes on the ocean floor and trying to keep my head above the water rolling in on top of me. I felt alone and unworthy. And in the midst of all those struggles, this poem came from my heart:

Wind swept and
Wave tossed
She stood before the chasm

Overlooking the vast expanse
Of darkness and nothingness

How can good come of this?
How can Hope survive?

Where is the light?
How can I cross?

Gently and softly a hand reaches hers.
Carefully and tenderly a whisper calls.

“You are not left alone to face the abyss.
Life was meant to be more than this.”

“Close your eyes.
Trust and fall into My arms.
I will carry you across the divide
And make sure you safely reach the other side.”

Life will leave its scars and bruises.
Others will take and make you feel used.
But I love you grander and deeper and truer.
With Me you have a sure future.

When wind-swept and wave-tossed
Of this you can know
That I will be your anchor and I will see you to the shore.

As I began to feel the Lord’s presence in the midst of my troubles and hear Him whisper words of truth in the middle of the lies, I found strength and peace like never before. The hard times were exactly that – hard. But, in the end, I found that my God was my defender and anchor and carried me through it all.

When life's waves pound against you and leave you feeling worn and spent, may you feel the Lord wrap His arms around you and find that He is ever faithful and true.

Growing Together

Starting a nonprofit and seeing a dream become reality has been one of the most challenging and rewarding moments of my life. The energy and effort required to make it all come together was far more than I expected, but the results I can already see from connecting One Child with One Horse and One Mentor make it all worthwhile.

Last year, Bright Side held its first ever major fundraising event called Bet on Bright Side. It’s a fun filled evening themed around the Kentucky Derby, and over 100 people came to it. We stood before our guests and volunteers and shared with them the mission and vision for the ranch. At that time, there was land and some fences were started, but we didn’t have the horses and we had not started programs yet. We talked about what was possible, and through the generosity and support of so many across several states, and through countless volunteers, Bright Side Youth Ranch was able to launch.

This year, on May 7th, we held Bet on Bright Side again. And, this time, 125 guests were present along with over 20 volunteers. It was a wonderful evening, and we loved connecting with everyone. We shared that Bright Side has started and is moving forward, and that we long to see more growth and more opportunities for kids and teens to connect with a horse and mentor. And, one of the ways we can help the session program grow is to put in a riding arena. It was (and is) a big ask. I’m so excited to say, the guests of Bet on Bright Side gave generously once again to see that happen. We are almost fully funded for the arena (just the fencing left to work out), and will be able to have the grading and footing done very soon.

It has been truly amazing to see how God has worked through the hearts and lives of so many people to make inspiring the next generation toward Hope possible. While the dream was rooted in our hearts and entrusted to us to launch, it is not about Devin and Tia. At least, we want it to be so much more than that. We know that this vision is sourced in the Giver of dreams, and He is the one who will see it to completion. We work hard on our end to be faithful stewards, but we have learned to trust Him fully to provide the people and resources to bring it together. And, so many times, He gives us exactly what we need at the time we need it. There are moments when I wish we had a major grant or an endowment to buffer all the budget needs. Or, that all the pieces of the master building plan for the property could happen all at once. But, if all that were so, I wouldn’t be learning to lean on and trust God for absolutely everything.

Are we often stretched to the max as we try to balance marriage, family, church, jobs, and a startup nonprofit? You bet. And, there are times where we fail in one area or another in the juggling act. However, I am more confident of God’s character and provision than ever before. The truths I’ve discovered about the faithfulness of the Lord in the ups and downs, the mountains and the valleys, and the bright and dark seasons of life are often the truths I get to share with kids and teens that come onto the ranch for sessions. As I grow in my understanding and trust, I see opportunities to help others do the same. And isn’t that just like God to give us something that appears to be for someone else but we learn it’s for us as well?

That’s why it is such an honor to stand before others to share that Bright Side exists to inspire the next generation and offer the opportunity for them to join in the cause and leave a legacy. Taking steps forward in prayer, serving, learning, and giving helps us to grow, and we want everyone who has given their time, talents, and treasures to be able to experience that.

Thank you for walking with Bright Side. It is no small courtesy you give. It is leaving an impact on the kids and teens already, and we look forward to seeing all that God has in store as we continue to work together to inspire the next generation toward Hope.

 

To see pictures from the event (courtesy of Langhoff Creative who did an amazing job), please click here.

To see the video we shared at the event (put together by a dear friend), please see below. 

Putting Feet to Faith

This week, Devin and I spent a few days at Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, Georgia. Why were we there? It was a great opportunity to connect with old friends and share the story of God at work in our lives.

Devin’s former youth pastor is the Director of Spiritual Formation at TFC and had recently been focusing on chasing God’s dreams with the students on campus. So, he asked Devin to share a message at chapel and also offered Devin and I both the chance to tell how a dream became a reality in Bright Side.

So, this past Monday, we headed off to Georgia and met up for dinner with Chris and Michelle Stratton. We loved catching up with them, and it is always a joy for me to see the mentors of Devin’s early years. Chris has a passion for developing and discipling students that I definitely see reflected in Devin’s heart for leadership and mentoring. Simply connecting with them and their sweet family was refreshing and encouraging. And add to that staying in a rustic cottage in the foothills and close to a beautiful waterfall; three days at TFC had us feeling more relaxed and rested than we have in a long time.

On Tuesday morning, Devin shared about society’s often low expectations of today’s teens and college students. Some students buy into the lies of current culture and don’t chase big dreams and large vision because they hear the negative voices calling them lazy, irresponsible, self-absorbed, and too into technology to acknowledge the world around them. So, Devin offered the challenge to rise above and rebel against those low expectations by exceeding them. Just as Paul challenged Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12.

Then on Tuesday evening, we met with a group of 35-40 students in a more informal setting in the student lounge to share specifically about Bright Side and how God has moved and worked in helping us turn a dream into reality. This was our favorite time of those few days! We loved telling the story of how Bright Side began with a desire to bring together two passions and then eventually was molded into a cause to impact the next generation through a relationship with a mentor and a connection with a horse. We also talked about what we have learned about vision so far, and made it clear that we are still in the learning curve.

One of the best parts was the Q&A time at the end. The students asked great questions pertaining to certain aspects of the programs at the ranch or how we are dealing with larger issues. We also had the opportunity to hear some of their dreams and share encouragement with them to keep pursuing what God set before them. I think there are times when our questions or the roadblocks seem overwhelming and we just need a little help to push past them and keep moving forward. And sometimes we just need to hear that it’s okay that it’s all messy and not the “ideal” or “traditional” form of ministry that we are used to seeing. God created us uniquely and calls us uniquely. There are similar ministries we can network with and even partner with, but God uses our own set of strengths, passions, and gifts in beautifully original ways of approaching ministry.

So, what have learned about vision so far and what did we share? Here you go:

1.     Pray. A lot.

-       Pray consistently and pray in desperation

-       The whole path of the last 10 years in moving from desire to passion to vision to cause and then all into reality is all centered around praying. How did we know this vision was from God and not a selfish endeavor? Prayer. How did we have the strength to take a risk? Prayer. How has God continually provided for our needs? Prayer. How have others joined in on the journey? Prayer.

-       We have endless stories of one answered prayer after another, but we focused specifically sharing about the 5 acres next door and how we prayer walked over the property, asked God to make a way, and how God moved in that whole process.

2.     Waiting doesn’t have to be stagnant

-       We often see waiting as a means to an end. We wait in line for coffee at Starbucks or wait in line at an amusement park for the big ride. What if waiting wasn’t about just getting to the end but who you become in the process?

-       There are moments or seasons in our lives where we feel stuck. For me, there were years spent waiting on the right timing, but for others, it might be going through the motions of classes or knowing God has given you a passion that you can’t fully lean into just yet.

-       These moments and seasons aren’t meant for us to wallow in or go through with impatience - it’s a time where God can develop our character, clarify the vision, and build a foundation.

3.     Develop a team

-       A vision from God is never going to lead to a place that gives glory to one person. It always leads to a place that gives Him glory and involves a community.

-       Living into a vision is a process. We grow and are developed in the process of bringing the vision into reality as we are obedient to Him.  

-       A vision from God cannot be brought about by one person. It is a community-driven activity.  

4.     True vision connects people to a cause

-       Vision isn’t just something you like to do--it is a cause that solves a problem that impacts our world today.

-       Don’t just think about what you want to do or what you like to do, think about a problem you want to solve.  

-       Develop a solution to that problem and that is the beginning of a vision.  

One question asked among many others was “How did you know this vision was from God and not just an excuse to do something for yourself?” Time and prayer were a part of that process, but it came down to if we didn’t say yes to God on stepping out in faith on this vision that we would be disobedient. He was calling (and is still calling) us forward to inspire the next generation toward Hope and we just have to be obedient and say yes.

What does Bright Side get out of sharing at a college campus? I’m not sure yet how He’ll use this one, although I have no doubt that He will. But, I know that we received such joy in this process. Getting away for a couple days at Toccoa Falls and telling story after story of God’s provision (and our learning to trust deeper) was great for our marriage and a good reminder of the Lord’s enduring faithfulness. Big questions never stop coming. Large roadblocks continue to pop up. But, we can look back and be reminded of how far we have come, rejoice in how God answered the cries of our hearts in the past, and know God will guide us as we move forward one step at a time.

And, it is encouraging to see the next generation rising up, not just as dreamers, but trailblazers that will carve out new ministry paths as they put feet to their faith.