On Christmas afternoon we took down our Christmas tree. With the help of my sister Pat, brother David and their spouses we began to pack. On December 26 the professional packers arrived. That afternoon my parents took 17 of our family see the Nutcracker Ballet in Chicago. On December 27 the moving van came. We spent the night with Sally Jo’s brother and family. The next morning, after saying good bye to Sally Jo’s parents, we headed for Dallas. Thankfully my brother David was going with us.
At 9:00 pm on December 29 we arrived at our cold house, crawled into our sleeping bags, and were soon asleep. The next morning we were up early, working to clean up the house before the movers came…at 9:00 am. Unexpectedly four young men associated with Sky Ranch came to help us get settled. As boxes and furniture came in through the front door, we told the movers where to put them, while we unpacked as fast as we could. The next noon Clayton and Peggy Bell arrived with lunch. Clayton was the Senior Minister of Highland Park Presbyterian Church – I had served as Clayton’s assistant in Dothan, Alabama eleven years previously. We worked late into the night trying to bring order out of chaos.
On January 1 we took my brother David to his plane. Suddenly, we were alone. As a family we had gone from Christmas celebrations, our extended families and our wonderful church family, nice home, good school, and familiar surroundings – to being just Sally Jo and me with our children, Carla, Jenna and Dirk, ages 9, 6, and 3. Reality: a new house in a new neighborhood in a place where we did not even know where the grocery store was, much less a doctor. It was tough!
The next morning I found my new office and spent the day trying to understand Sky Ranch’s situation, complicated by the fact that it had been without a director for several months. I was no longer a pastor, but the “Executive Director” of a non-profit organization which had one employee, a rented office and a couple hundred acres. On June 1, in five months, we needed to have built a lake, put in the roads and utilities, built and furnished essential buildings – including a barn, stalls and pens for 40 horses, built fences and a rodeo corral, bought 30 or 40 low cost horses in good health and safe for campers to ride, bought the necessary saddles, bridles and other program equipment for the operation of a camp, hired 4 year around staff and 40 summer staff – and helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars – while getting the word out: Sky Ranch was starting over again in East Texas. Oh Lord, what have you gotten me into? Our family into? Yet, we believed this assignment was from God: it would get done…on time.
Sally Jo was busy meeting the needs of our children, for if the kids did not have a reasonably good day, it would have made future days much more difficult. They, like we, did not know anyone, nor did they know where many of their things were – including the games and creative craft materials they enjoyed. The kids had no patterns and there were no places where the house was in order. Sally Jo worked at cleaning, laundry and putting what had been unpacked by five people into the right places. When the games were finally found, our children asked their mom to play with them…and she did.
Jenna’s seventh birthday was January 4th… We needed to be ready with wrapped presents (we brought some with us), a cake with candles – and whatever else could make a party – when there were no friends to invite. After cake and gifts we drove two hours to the new ranch location – then back to Dallas to the Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor where the staff sang “Happy Birthday” to our Jenna.
Our move was not very different than the move of any family to a totally new situation, apart from the fact that I was essentially changing vocations and starting up a new company – in a multi-building facility, which I was soon to learn, had to be redesigned before being built. At such times we must depend on our God given brains, the God given wisdom we pray for, and the fact that we need Him to go before, often in ways of which we are unaware. No wonder God said to Joshua when he took on the responsibility of leading a great nation: “Be strong and of a good courage. Be not afraid, neither be though dismayed, for the Lord they God is with you, where ever you go”. As God was with Joshua, so God is with us. Courage is required!
When we become aware of new people in our neighborhood, our school, our church – we need to put ourselves in their shoes. What can we do that will make their transition easier? Cookies, flowers from our yard, information about the area, an invite for a meal – perhaps all of the above! It takes courage for any of us to reach out with open hearts and hands to our new neighbor – the family next door, down the street, at church or at school. When we, who live In Partnership With God, reach out with Christ like love and compassion, our love will not be forgotten.
(This Sunday morning I welcomed a person I did not know to church. It turned out this was his first time in the church. He had been born in Dothan, AL – where I served as Assistant Pastor of 1st Presbyterian Church. We had much to talk about – boiled peanuts anyone?)