Re-entry

Though the beginning of this blog post may not seem to have anything to do with re-entry, please trust me that it will all connect together at the end.

Over 20 years ago, I had arrived at the lowest point in the history of my life.  I was making my living as a drug dealer, my relationships with family and friends were completely ruined, I was facing criminal charges, and my ex-girlfriend was marrying another man who was to parent our child.  Then, by the grace of God, I found myself within the walls of a church building, completely surrendering the broken pieces of my life.

When I gave everything I had (which was not much) to God, he filled my heart with “a feeling of his love.”  But as time went on, the “love in my heart” began to grow distant and faint, until one day, I realized that it was gone- no where to be found.  When I asked those in the church why the feeling had left me, they told me that our faith goes through seasons and, in some seasons, God wants us to trust him even without experiencing the “feeling” we felt when we first believed.

This answer satisfied me, for a while, until, one day, I forgot about “the feeling of love” and I even forgot that I was in a season of trust.  Though I continued to seek God and attempted to be faithful in following after him, I entered a much more difficult season in my faith journey.  This season was a season of darkness, marked with deep pain, loneliness, feelings of abandonment and overwhelm.  Little did I know at the time, this season was not from the Lord, but was created by myself as I attempted to control my destiny and take back the life I had so completely surrendered when I first believed.

Last year began the start of yet another new season in my life, a season of re-entry back into the faith I once had at the beginning, a faith marked by complete surrender to God.  And, without any expectation of him doing so, God touched me in a way I haven’t experienced since those early years of my new spiritual birth (See blog posted on April 4th, 12th paragraph).  The memory of that touch has been burned into my heart and mind ever since.

It has now been over two weeks since our re-entry into “normal” life.  And though we did expect it to be an adjustment, we were in no way prepared for the struggles we have had to face as we attempt to re-connect once again with our family and friends who are closest to our hearts.  Today, we found ourselves humbled before God, praying for his grace and mercy in areas of our lives we find ourselves powerless and without control.  As I prayed for God to strengthen us in our pain and insufficiency, he blessed me with His presence once again.

To a degree I had never experienced before, I felt, in great measure, God’s spirit fill my heart, and the power of his love become real beyond all conscious understanding.  It was unbelievable yet undeniable.  Jesus himself said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  God has become our comfort today as we continue to struggle through our re-entry.  But though the physical re-entry into my “normal” life has been a greater challenge than expected, the spiritual re-entry into a life of total surrender gives us hope for the future.

A Surprise Ending

At 5:45 pm on Wednesday, June 19th we pulled into our neighborhood after being gone for over 10 months.  Our close friends, the Thompson’s, stayed in contact with us throughout the day so that they could witness our arrival home.  As we pulled around the corner onto our street, moments away from being home again, we were overwhelmed by the surprise that awaited us.  Friends and families from our neighborhood, stood in expectant anticipation as we drove the last few feet to complete our journey.  We had made it to the end of our trip, and we were welcomed home by a parade of loving, smiling familiar faces.  Once again, words can not describe the sudden blossom of emotions that sprang forth from our hearts.  As the RV came to a stop, even before we could get out, the crowd of excited, caring admirers came rushing towards us with cheering and shouts of joy.

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As we exited our motor home, tears of joy and amazement burst from within us and we hugged and embraced our friends.  Though we had always known that we were well loved back home, the unexpected surprise of the large gathering, cherishing our return, was more than our feelings could comprehend.  Few times in my life have I felt so honored and appreciated the way I did in that moment.  As we were very warmly greeted, we laughed, cried and began the process continuing our friendships once again.

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Photo Jun 19, 5 40 00 PM

It was the greatest welcoming party I had ever seen.  It was the perfect ending to our trip and a perfect transition to our new beginning.

The Count Down

Two days left on our 10 month and 19 day trip.  We will be returning on Wednesday evening and we are making the most of every moment we have available.

Asher and Eva cut the chains off as they count down the days till we get home:

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To bring everyone up to speed, we have spent the last 12 days at the Idaho Heritage Homestead.  Two days ago, my best friend, Bruce Pinto, flew to Idaho from Seattle to visit us for the last 5 days of our trip.

The kids welcome Bruce to our motor home:

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Bruce, Josh and Mel celebrating Father’s Day at the Homestead bakery and creamery with a special Father’s Day dinner:

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Prior to Bruce arriving, here’s what we’ve been up to over the last couple weeks.

A homestead style BBQ at our host family, Brian and Rebeccah’s, house:

And home style cooking in their kitchen:

Planting Idaho potatoes on the community land:

Homestead chickens:

Working at the Idaho wood mill:

Josh and Caleb doing electrical work for a guest house:

Making new friends at the Idaho Homestead:

Caleb shoots a gun and hits his target on the first try:

Playing games! (of course):

Swimming in the pond:

Caleb catches a fish without any adult assistance:

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Picking grape leaves (used for wrapping the brie cheese made at the creamery) at an orchard:

Enjoying the warm Idaho evenings:

Like I said- we are making the most of the short time we have left.  Soon our trip will be over and we will be home, anxious to see all our family and friends back home in Seattle.  We love you, miss you, and will see you in a few days.  Until then, make the most of every opportunity.

 

 

More Adventure

After two full weeks at the Montana Homestead Ranch, we are reluctant to say good-bye as we continue on with our trip.  We have only two weeks left before we arrive back home.  The beauty of the land and the sweetness of the people at the Montana Homestead sung songs of peace and joy in our hearts and we eagerly await a time in the future we can visit again.

The community here in Montana is many times smaller than the community we first met in Texas (1,200 people in Texas compared to about 60 in Montana).  A smaller group makes for closer and quicker relationship ties to be developed and strengthened.  This relational growth seemed rapid, more than one might expect in two weeks.

As I thought about this I was reminded of summer camp.  Have any of you been on a week long summer camp as a child, maybe with a church group or boy scouts?  Before camp the kids you go to camp with are virtually strangers to you, and one week later you have created new best friends.  I remember going to summer camp several times as a child and this phenomenon seemed to happen to me every time.

This was the same experience we had in Montana.  Every night for the past two weeks straight we have shared a meal with one (or more) family(s) in the community.  Such sharing of life in such a short concentrated amount of time with a small group of individuals leads to a feeling we can’t forget.

Planting Corn on the Ranch:

Helping at the Chicken Farm:

New Born Puppies bred on the Ranch:

Herding Sheep:

Electrical Work on a New Homestead House:

Montana Sunset:

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Taking a Family Trip in the Mountains:

Playing in the Snow:

Fun and Games:

Damage and Repairs from a Montana Hail Storm:

Catching Unwanted Stowaways in our Motor Home:

Celebrating our Last Day of Home School with Cinnamon Rolls from the Bakery:

A Happy Family in Montana:

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On to Idaho, then home.  Oh so close to home.  We look forward to seeing everyone upon our return.

 

 

Scoping out the Landscape

One essential characteristic of my nature is that of an explorer.  Back home I would explore the Olympic National Park and the Cascades 6-8 times a years.  I always valued exploring new territory I had never seen and finding remote areas that are less traveled by others.  Here in Montana this passion for exploration has had free expression to lead us around the land, looking for new places we have never been to before.

One of these places is the Heritage Homestead Ranch property.  This property is an 1800 acre parcel seated among the Greycliff Mountains in the city of Greycliff.  Part of this property is in a valley created by the Greycliffs with a natural spring and a river running through it.  The other part of this property is on an elevated plateau referred to as “The Flats.”  These flats are about one hundred feet above the valley and have picturesque views of the Yellowstone River Valley and the snow capped mountains of the Crazy Mountains and the Bear Tooth Mountains.

View of the Yellowstone River from the flats:Photo May 24, 10 41 01 AM

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Mel and I on the Greycliffs:

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Exploration of the 1800 acre parcel requires special equipment:

Just don’t let the boys get behind the wheel:

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And lots of hiking:

Back down in the valley, our kids played with the animals on the ranch:

And exploration often leads to unexpected discoveries:

And climbing around in a new construction ranch house:

Back in town our exploration continued with a trip to the river:

View of the Crazy Mountains on a sunny day:

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Exploration and fun always seem to go together (Caleb in the green helmet):

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Riding bikes with the mountains as a backdrop:

And when the weather brings us inside it’s time to play ping-pong:

When a family of 12 invites a family of 6 (our family) over for dinner, here is what the kitchen looks like:

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Inviting our friends to visit our house:

Photo May 23, 5 51 49 PM (1) So our first few days of exploration have proven fruitfully productive.  Every exploration leads to the discovery of new things.  We are excited to learn what these new things are as we value every moment we are given in this remarkable community.

Happy Birthday, Lydia!!!

May 23 – Lydia’s birthday.  11 years old.  The last family member to have a birthday on this trip.  (All six of us had our birthday while we were on our trip).  Our tradition on this trip is to allow the birthday boy/girl to choose their favorite restaurant for the celebration of their special day.  At first, Lydia wanted to go to the Olive Garden- a family favorite.  But after spending a few days with the people from the Homestead in Montana, her plans quickly changed.  Thursday nights at the Homestead’s Big Timber Bakery are all you can eat pizza nights.  So instead of going to the Olive Garden, we got dairy free cheese for the kids and the bakery specially made pizzas for our children.

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The members of the community even sang her a special birthday song as follows:

“A happy birthday to you, A happy birthday to you, May you feel Jesus near, Every day of the year, A happy birthday to you, A happy birthday to you, and the best year you ever had.”

Here is a picture of Lydia from earlier that morning after finishing a scavenger hunt in our motor home in order to find her birthday coupons.

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Lydia in front of the mountains in Montana.

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Lydia playing with friends on her birthday.

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After dinner we went back to our friend’s house for cake, presents and fun.

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As we were driving home for the evening, Lydia told us that it was one of the best birthdays she had ever had.

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Montana (?!?)

For those of you who have been paying close attention to our blog, it may come as a surprise to read that we are in Montana right now.  To be honest, it’s a surprise to us as well, but, here we are.  To understand how/why we are here will take a bit more explaining.

Those reading our blog, by now, should be familiar with our family’s incredible experiences at the Heritage Homestead in Waco, Texas.  I can’t remember if I have written anything about the other locations around the country and world that the model of the Heritage Homestead is being practiced, so I will take the time to do so now.

The Heritage Homestead was establish in Waco, Texas roughly 40 years ago.  This location is by far the largest and most complete expression of it’s practices and values.  In recent years though, the model of their community has started to express itself in other locations outside of Texas.  These locations include Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand, Israel, Virginia, Idaho and Montana.

When we found out that they had a (much smaller) community in Deary, Idaho (less than a 6 hours drive away from our home in Seattle, WA) we were very excited to visit and see how it compared to our experiences in Texas.  Obviously, Idaho is much closer to home than Texas.  And because our originally planned route home was taking us from Boise, ID to Seattle, it would hardly be a detour to visit Deary, ID on the way home.

Knowing that the Heritage Homestead also had a community in Montana, we thought for a minute to visit that location on our way home, but we realized that it was going to be too far out of the way to travel there on our way back home and so we decided not to visit there at this time.

That is, until about one week ago.  When we called Mel’s Uncle Ken and Aunt Shirley to coordinate our schedule with their’s, we discovered that they would be leaving for Seattle to visit Mel’s family the same time we had planned on visiting with them.  We were able to eat dinner with them for just one night.

Call it coincidence, fate or something else.  Suddenly we had an unexpected hole in our schedule.  Mel and I both thought the same thing.  Maybe we can go to Montana?  With a few phone calls, we connected with a family that lives in the Montana community that we met in Waco during the conference.  They told us they would be delighted if we visited them and we made plans to do so.

So here we are, in Montana.  We have been here only three days now, but I could write many things about this place.  I could talk about how much closer Montana is than Texas.  I could talk about how the landscape and the climate reminds me of home.  I could talk about the way I felt when we drove alongside the snow-topped mountains.

All these thoughts and more consume me as we are embraced by a community of people who are so much like the people we met down in Texas.  So much are our hearts alive as we earnestly pray for God’s guidance and wisdom as we surrender our lives to His future plans for us.  I do not pretend to know the future or have all the answers.  All I know is that I have never felt this way before.