This song is for mothers…

On the heels of Mother’s Day this past Sunday, I wanted to share this song that I recently heard.  I believe it captures the heart of motherhood and I dedicate it to my wife, my mom, and mothers everywhere.  Be blessed…


Posted by on May 10, 2016 in Wives and Mothers


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Five Years

April 18.  This year, 2016, it will mark five years since Isaac’s death.  There is a popular saying that “time heals all wounds.”  I don’t agree with that statement, but I do believe that time provides perspective.

The first anniversaries of Isaac’s death were difficult to endure.  The first year we felt a need to get away for the day and try to focus on something else.  The second year was a much more quiet remembrance.  I really don’t remember the third and fourth anniversaries.

So why does this year feel different?  Maybe because five years marks a significant milestone in other aspects of our lives (i.e. marriage, employment).  Maybe because this year April 18 will once again land on a Monday, the same day of the week that it was in 2011.  I’m not sure which of these it is, or perhaps for some other reason, but this year the anticipation is slightly haunting me.

I mentioned earlier that I believe time provides perspective.   One way this is true for me is that the intensity of pain from losing a child has lessened.  The first year or two was just so difficult and painful, with so many thoughts and events triggering intense emotional responses.  As we have forged a new groove for our lives, we don’t carry the heavy burden of that pain or get lost in the cloud of grief.  We can remember good times with smiling and laughter and not focus so much on the events on and immediately after April 18, 2011.  We can focus on the eternal truths in God’s Word and look forward to when we will see Isaac again.

By God’s grace, we have moved forward with our lives.  We haven’t moved “on”, as if whatever happened before didn’t matter.  But we have chosen not to remain frozen in the past, where we could play out the “what if” scenarios in our minds (though this is tempting at times, but quite unfruitful).  Moving forward to us means that we still remember (how could we forget?).  We laugh, play, and work, while rejoicing in all these things.

Yet, while moving forward and rejoicing, there is a piece of my heart that is missing.  I am not always consciously aware of it, yet I feel that it is gone.  I can feel the void that Isaac’s passing has left.  It is difficult for me to describe that feeling.  I just feel like I am not an entire person.  The best physical analogy that I can think of is if one is missing a body part that they once had (which I’ve never experienced, so forgive me for taking the liberty of this analogy).  While I see (physical) and know (mental) that Isaac is not here, in my heart (spiritual) he is still with me.   These conflicting aspects of my being make me wonder if I am something less than a full person.

I am a new creature in Christ Jesus.  It is only through my faith in our loving, merciful, and just God that I can even stand where I am today.  I believe that Isaac is safe in His hands and I hold fast to the hope of seeing him again someday soon.  Yet because Isaac is there in Heaven and I am here on Earth, a part of me is missing.

May you be blessed this day and rest in the eternal hope we have through Christ Jesus our Lord.



Posted by on April 15, 2016 in Grief, Spiritual and Emotional


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Bella’s Camp Story | Camp Hebron

Below is an article that was published on Camp Hebron’s Website in November 2015.  This describes more of Bella’s experience at camp and Meadowview Stables.

Source: Bella’s Camp Story | Camp Hebron

Isabella McCleaf does not remember much of her first experience at Camp Hebron. Isabella, better known as “Bella,” was just two years old in 2005 when her family attended a summer Family Camp. Her parents believe that she enjoyed her time at camp and received her fair share of attention and care from her camp counselors. During this camp, her family connected with the leaders of Camp Hebron’s horsemanship program, Dean and Susan Berger.

Prior to attending Family Camp, Bella’s family had been planning to sell their house in Carlisle. After attending Camp Hebron, however, they became attracted to the peaceful rural setting of the Halifax community. They immediately sold their house and within two months Bella’s family relocated to the Halifax area.

Fast-forwarding a few years, Bella developed a strong love of and interest in horses, mainly through reading books. This interest developed into a desire to take horseback riding lessons. Her parents remembered Camp Hebron and the Bergers, and Bella began taking riding lessons in 2013.

Bella cherishes every moment that she has to ride on and be with the horses. After asking Susan if she could help out around Meadowview Stables, Bella began volunteering in 2014, helping out a few hours during the week after her schoolwork is completed. Her tasks include feeding and grooming the horses and cleaning stalls. Volunteering has also enabled Bella to spend more time with the horses and with Dean and Susan.

During the summer of 2015, Bella participated in the week-long Wrangler-in-Training (WIT) camp. At “WIT Week” she began developing the skills that she will need to eventually become a wrangler. Her biggest challenge during the camp was preparing and performing her “demo,” where she instructs riders on the proper care and use of the horses and equipment. After successfully completing this week of training, Bella officially became a WIT, which enabled her to have more responsibilities such as leading trail rides and helping with mounting and dismounting of riders. After WIT camp, Bella volunteered during several of the other summer camps, including Saddle Straddle II and Colts and Fillies.

Bella’s experiences at camp and the stables have helped improve her confidence and public speaking skills. Being around the horses and camp has been healing therapy for her, too, especially after suffering the sudden tragic loss of her older brother Isaac in 2011.  She is able to connect with God, nature, and other people, including Camp Hebron staff, through her experiences and through the peaceful, majestic quality of the horses.

After seeing the positive influence that camp has had on Bella, her family has become involved in supporting the horsemanship program and participating in other camp activities. Recently, Bella and her mom attended the mother-daughter slumber party weekend at Camp Hebron.  They experienced a peaceful time connecting with each other and other women. They were encouraged in their walk as ladies in Christ and to speak words of life to others. It was a beautiful time of fellowship without the daily life distractions, and a blessing to both Bella and her mom.

Bella is looking forward to continuing to participate in the horsemanship program and other activities at Camp Hebron. She will continue to volunteer at the stables and help with the Yellow Breeches program. Through these activities, Bella will share with other children the peace and healing that she has experienced through one of God’s amazing creatures: horses.

These are some of the great things that happen at Camp Hebron. You can make a tremendous impact for campers like Bella by making a donation today.

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Posted by on March 26, 2016 in Family Updates


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Our “Caped Crusader”

We are excited to share some good news with you about our oldest daughter!  Thanks to a nomination from Camp Hebron, Isabella (who goes by Bella) was recently recognized as the “Caped Crusader” in March’s Central Penn Parent publication.  The article below is reposted from Halifax teen uses horses to help others | Central Penn Parent.  Congratulations Bella and thank you Camp Hebron!  To God be the glory…

Halifax teen uses horses to help others

March 16, 2016

Bella McCleaf has always loved horses.

She first grew to love the animal by reading about them in books. From there, she eventually took riding lessons.

Today, the 13-year-old’s work with horses has turned into much more. Bella now volunteers at Camp Hebron in Halifax, helping take care of the horses that aided her through her tough time.

In fact, Bella volunteers at least five times more than anyone else there, according to the camp.

“Her dedication and drive are beyond her years,” said Tammy Briggs, communications director at Camp Hebron. “She’s got great leadership qualities already at a younger age.”

Perhaps the biggest mark Bella has made at Camp Hebron has been left through the camp’s Yellow Breeches program. As part of a joint effort with the Yellow Breeches Educational Center, Camp Hebron has helped special needs and at-risk youth with hands-on learning through its horsemanship program, and Bella has worked closely with some of those children involved.

“There are just so many stories you hear during Yellow Breaches with all these kids coming from so many different backgrounds and lives,” Bella said. “Some of them are really sad, so it’s great to help them out.”

Bella began taking riding lessons at Camp Hebron in 2013. At the time, her older brother had just passed away and she just wanted to take part in something that could help ease her mind.

While the lessons were difficult at first, she said she loved it from the start as it proved to be a great healing mechanism.

“It was a lot to get used to because the only time I had been on a horse was for a pony ride, so it was a lot different being in control of my own horse,” said Bella, daughter of Andrew and Brenda McCleaf.

After about a year of learning to ride, Bella decided that she couldn’t get enough of the horses through just lessons. She first approached Susan Berger, the leader of Camp Hebron’s horsemanship program, about volunteering.

Her volunteer work started as a few hours a week, feeding and grooming the horses and cleaning the stalls after her daily home-school sessions.

It didn’t take long for her role to expand.

It was during her first summer helping at Camp Hebron that Bella was first introduced to the Wrangler-in-Training program. Too young to partake in the program, Bella helped out behind the scenes, ensuring the program ran smoothly for all the WITs at work. Her efforts were noticed and a year later, Bella was a WIT herself.

“That first year, everyone just assumed I would be joining the program next year,” Bella said. “So when WIT week rolled around this year, we got a text asking if I was in. I said, ‘Of course.’”

Through the WIT training, Bella learned all the skills to one day become a horse wrangler. She was also able to develop more responsibilities at camp, which included leading trail rides and helping with the mounting and dismounting of riders.

Bella took advantage of the situation by volunteering even more, helping out with several summer camps, in addition to the Yellow Breeches program.

For now, Bella plans to continue volunteering with Camp Hebron and taking lessons with her favorite horse, Benjie. She hopes to one day work with horses as a career.

“They’re just awesome,” Bella said about the horses she works with every day. “They’re just great at helping you heal.”

Christopher Hopkins is assistant editor/web of Central Penn Parent.


Posted by on March 25, 2016 in Family Updates


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Through All Of It

A dear friend recently turned me on to the song “Through All Of It”, performed by Colton Dixon.

Sometimes the lyrics or melody of a song hit you right in the gut.  In this song, both of them do for me.

Here are the lyrics:

[Verse 1]
There are days I’ve taken more than I can give
And there are choices that I made
That I wouldn’t make again
I’ve had my share of laughter
Of tears and troubled times
This is has been the story of my life

I have won
And I have lost
I got it right sometimes
But sometimes I did not
Life’s been a journey
I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen regret
Oh and You have been my God
Through all of it

[Verse 2]
You were there when it all came down on me
When I was blinded by my fear
And I struggled to believe
But in those unclear moments
You were the one keeping me strong
This is how my story’s always gone

I have won
And I have lost
I got it right sometimes
But sometimes I did not
Life’s been a journey
I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen regret
Oh and You have been my God
Through all of it
Through all of it

And this is who You are
More constant than the stars up in the sky
All these years of our lives, I
I look back and I see You
Right now I still do
And I’m always going to

I have won
And I have lost
I got it right sometimes
But sometimes I did not
Life’s been a journey
I’ve seen joy
I’ve seen regret
Oh and You have been my God
Through all of it
Oh and You have been my God
Through all of it
Oh and You have been my God
Through all of it

I can relate to almost every word in this song, as I assume most of you can also.  The second verse really gets to me, especially given all that we’ve journeyed through these last four-and-a-half years, “when it all came down on [us]” and “[we] struggled to believe”.  God was there, and continues to be, through all of it.

Through the pain of intentionally bad choices and unintentional disaster, my God has been present in my life.  I could always feel Him, faithfully and patiently waiting for me.

I hope that you can experience Him today, no matter what mountaintop or valley you may be in.  He has demonstrated His love for you through His Son Jesus.  God loves you, through all the circumstances of your life.  Be encouraged…


Posted by on October 2, 2015 in Spiritual and Emotional


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Some Measure of Normalcy

April 18.  It used to be that date would stare back at us from the calendar, taunting us with the memories associated with it.  Now it seems to sneak up on us.

Four years.  It is almost unbelievable that is has been that long (or that short) since April 18, 2011.  Sometimes, that day seems so near – the intensity of the emotions and the tragedy of the events so mark our souls that we can hardly escape them.  Yet, in some ways we have become so accustomed to our “new normal” that it seems so long ago that our dear son left our family.

Isaac.  The mention of that name pierces my heart, no matter where or when I see or hear it.  When that piercing comes, I try to smile and remember all the laughter and joy that he brought to my life and the lives that he touched.  It is my way to deal with the grief that is always with me, so that I don’t live in the darkness that so often accompanies it.

This year we don’t really feel like commemorating the day in some “special” way.  We really want to make it as “normal” of a day as possible, Lord willing.  Our weather forecasters are anticipating a beautiful day.  We have some garden and yard work to tend to, which we can tackle together as a family.  The children asked if we could tent outside on Friday night.  Oh, how I crave to be snuggled in my warm, comfortable bed.  However, Lord willing and weather permitting, we are planning to pitch the tent and bundle up under the stars tonight!  I guess this is our way of trying to redeem the time, keeping to our family and blog motto.

Is this a sign of healing, wanting to experience a “normal” day on the anniversary of the most tragic event in one’s life?  I don’t know, but it feels like a step in a positive direction.  Even so, I can feel the tears swelling just below the surface of my flesh, overflowing from that eternal hole in my heart left there by the passing of Isaac.

Today, I pray for those who are missing their loved ones.  I especially pray for those who are missing Isaac, that special boy whose contagious laughter and energy brought happiness to most everyone who knew him.

(I love you buddy and miss you so very much.  Love, Dad)

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)




Posted by on April 17, 2015 in Grief, Spiritual and Emotional


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The Harmonious Resurrection Accounts

Earlier this month, we celebrated the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ (actually, we celebrate His resurrection everyday, since He is our life!).  As I reflected on Christ’s resurrection from the dead and the accounts left to us by the four gospel writers, a few questions entered my mind.  Was there just one woman (Mary Magdalene) or several women who went to the tomb?  Did they see one angel or two angels?  Was (Were) the angel(s) inside or outside of the tomb?  Why was Mary Magdalene not allowed to touch Jesus but the other women did touch Him?

Have you had similar questions?

We should remember that several people can witness the same event from different perspectives.  I believe that the sources for the gospel writers provided their own perspectives of the same event.  Even one writer, John, was himself a witness of the empty tomb and resurrected Christ.

Below is a chart that I created to sort out and harmonize these four accounts.  The four columns organize the respective Scripture verses about the resurrection according to each gospel writer.  Similar sections of Scripture are color-coded to show what seem to be very similar accounts of the same event.  At the bottom of the last page, the color-coded sections are summarized to give a sequential understanding of the events of Christ’s resurrection.  In conclusion, I believe that the gospel writers present an orderly account of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, albeit from different first and second-hand perspectives.

So, what are your thoughts?  Do you agree with this orderly representation of the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Christ?

I hope that by seeing the orderly account of the Lord’s resurrection, your faith in Him and in the surety of His Word will be strengthened.



P.S.:  Here is the chart  – Resurrection Harmony


Posted by on April 15, 2015 in Christian Studies


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