Category Archives: Family Updates

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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Where’s the fire?

How many times have I intended to write a post, only to not find the determination to follow through?  I even started several of them, but could not seem to find the proper words to bring them to completion.  Being frustrated with my lack of passion to write, and wanting freedom from the duty to try to complete my earlier thoughts, I recently cleaned out my “draft” posts and decided to start afresh.  So here we go…

Spring is almost here.  It is the time of year when the earth brings forth new life and we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior.  It is also the time of year when a dark cloud hangs over the anticipation of a particular date – April 18.  It will be almost three years since our beloved Isaac passed on into heaven.  Even after the long cold winter we experienced, it is still difficult to be fully excited about the change in season, at least until we pass that day.

So, how am I?  Well, I wish I had some fire lit under me to tackle my callings in this life (hence the title of this post).  Most days I feel as if I float through life.  The enthusiasm that I had the first and even second year after Isaac’s death, to turn around the experience to help others, has diminished somewhat.  I still want to share with and help others who are grieving after the death of a child, but it is not my driving force and passion.  Everyday life has returned to – well – everyday life.  I go to work, Brenda home schools the children, we gather together in the evening, and we wrap-up our day.  Then we do it all over again.  Were we supposed to return to this hum-drum routine?  Or, rather, should we not be serving our Lord joyfully through the “normalcy” of everyday life (and not considering it “hum-drum”)?  How long do we have to endure this life?

I think there are really only three things that keep me going these days:  God’s word; the unconditional love and support of my wife and children; and my relationships with close family, friends, and brethren in Christ.  The word of God has been my life support.  If there is one positive from this experience, it is that I have learned to cling to the grace and truth of Jesus Christ, especially when the world offers other means of false comfort and peace.  I realize that there are things about God that I don’t understand, and I am trying to be OK with that (do I really have a choice?).  I wish I had answers to my big questions.  But if God didn’t give Job the answers to his big questions, then I should be content with the same.

Lately, some annoyances in my life have really been getting under my skin. I have been impatient with others and harbored bitterness over some perceived injustices.  I know the Lord calls me to forgive (up to 490 times right?), but doesn’t that only apply to my “brother” and doesn’t he/she have to apologize first?  You see how I rationalize my anger?  Oh yeah, I can be angry, as long as I don’t sin, right?   Anyway, I’m not liking that stinky attitude coming out of my heart.

I hope you don’t mind me just being honest about where I am spiritually.  We could really use your prayers.  I wish I could share some great spiritual insight and breakthrough with you, but it seems that I’m just wandering through the desert land.

On a lighter note, I did want to share a recent family “selfie” below.  Yes, we do have a new dog.  His name is Stride and he appears to be a collie/German shepherd mix.  He is a little over a year old.  We adopted him near the end of 2013.  We have been challenged to get used to Stride’s energy and personality, but things are improving and we are learning to accept each other.  Our previous family dog, Mikey, died suddenly in early October 2013 while we were away on vacation.  That was a very sad experience for us.  Also, our two cats that Brenda and I had from early in our relationship died within a short time frame.  So, the last half of 2013 was a little rough for us as the older generation of our pets all died within a short period.  For us, losing a pet is not nearly the same experience as losing a child, but it is sad and difficult.


Well, I think I will actually close a post for now!  If a fire kindles underneath me, maybe I will write a little more often in the future (no promises though).

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.



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CCI04222011_00001Today Isaac would have turned 13 years old.  It seems so cliché to say “it’s hard to believe”, but those words describe how I feel  This is the third birthday anniversary that we will commemorate with Isaac in Heaven.  So many times it seems like just last year that he left us, while other times it seems so long ago.

I wonder what he would look like at 13 years old.  Would he have facial hair and be shaving?  What would his voice sound like?  How muscular would he be?  Would he like his hair buzzed or longer?

I also wonder if he would still be interested in trains.  How much historical knowledge would have he accumulated about the American Civil War?  Would he still enjoy the outdoors?  What type of work would he be interested in doing?  What other interests would he have?

Finally, I wonder where he would be spiritually.  Would he be following Jesus with all of his heart?  Would he still be concerned about others being saved?

We don’t have to concern ourselves with these things anymore because Isaac is safe in Heaven.  Our spiritual training with him was completed suddenly on April 18, 2011, when it was his time to go home.  I imagine the day that I go home.  After I greet my Savior Jesus and bow at his feet, I expect to see Isaac standing close behind him with that big smile on his face ready to give me one of his hearty hugs.

I’m homesick…

I miss you buddy, so very much.  Sometimes I laugh and sometimes I cry when I remember all of our times together.  How I long so much just to see you, hold you, and laugh with you.  Happy birthday, my dear sweet son.

Every passing day brings us one step closer.

Blessings to you all,



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Apple Pie, Baseball, and… Mexico?

Last Friday evening, we decided to travel to Mexico – which meant we had Mexican food for dinner and watched a Mexican-themed movie (more on that later).  For our Mexican-themed dinner, we ate taco salad.

For dessert, Isabella decided to make an apple pie from a recipe she found in her Nature Friend magazine.  This recipe included mixing sour cream with the sliced apples and a crumb topping.

The crust is ready.  Now time to slice the apples.

The crust is ready. Now time to slice the apples.

Slicing the apples.

Slicing the apples.


The apples are sliced.  We are getting closer to baking time!

The apples are sliced. We are getting closer to baking time!

Now time to make the topping.

Now time to make the topping.

The finished product, ready to slice and eat with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Yum!

The finished product, ready to slice and eat with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum!

The apple pie tasted very good, especially with a side scoop (or two) of vanilla ice cream.  Look out Aunt Ann, you have some competition. 🙂

Obviously, apple pie is an American staple.  So how does this fit into our Mexican theme for the evening?  Well, we decided to tie the two together by watching a movie about a Little League® Mexican baseball team, thus making it a “Mex-American” themed evening.

The Perfect Game is a movie based on the true story of the 1957 Monterrey, Mexico Little League® baseball team.  The team was composed of a group of boys who believed, with child-like faith, that God wanted them to play baseball.  One of the boys recruited the coaching services of a down-and-out former clubhouse attendant for the St. Louis Cardinals.  The team overcame several obstacles, with some apparently Divine help, to become the first team from outside the United States to win the Little League® World Series in Williamsport, PA.

3_800x600This inspirational movie portrays the classic underdog story.  It deals with the themes of racial and sexual discrimination in a way suitable for young children to view.  The movie also touches upon the difficulties of dealing with the death of a child, as portrayed by an angry and alcoholic father (a few intense scenes) and a broken-hearted mother and brother.  We recommend this family friendly movie for inspiration, enjoyment, and a real-life example of child-like faith.

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein. (Luk 18:16-17)


Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Family Updates


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Horses and Hope

Last week, our neighbors who live just a mile up the road invited us over for horse-drawn cart rides.  First, the children (and adults) enjoyed several rides in the cart drawn by the pony named Miracle.

Merrily we go...

Merrily we go…

Three ladies and a Miracle

Three ladies and a Miracle

The boys take a turn with Miracle

The boys take a turn with Miracle

Next, David and Gracia took turns riding the pony named Lovey.

David rides Lovey

David rides Lovey

OK, maybe not

OK, maybe not

Finally, Isabella rode Oliver.  She was a little unsure mounting him because he stands over 16 hands high!  Isabella commented that the ground looked so far away.  Once she was on and rode a few laps with him, she settled right in.

Preparing Oliver for a ride

Preparing Oliver for a ride

Isabella and Oliver enjoying the beautiful scenery

Isabella and Oliver enjoying the beautiful scenery

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Brushing Oliver

Brushing Oliver

New friends

New friends

We enjoyed our visit with our new friends.  Although we only live a mile apart, we just met this last year because of a common yet unwanted bond that we share.  In August 2012, our neighbors’ daughter tragically died in an automobile accident.  Though we would have never chosen the circumstances that brought us together, it is encouraging and comforting to have each other to share our heartaches and hope.

Who by him (Jesus) do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. (1Pe 1:21, emphasis added)

For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. (1Th 5:9-11)

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. (2Co 1:3-4)


Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Family Updates


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It has been a while

Several times I’ve sparked an idea for a blog post.  However, when I’ve sat down to write, the feeling has gone.  Rather than forcing a post, I’ve walked away and left it behind.  Well, now I thought I would take the time to sit down and write about what has happened in our family.

Summertime Fun

This summer has passed by very quickly.  Each passing year, time seems to move faster.  We’ve enjoyed our time at home swimming in our pool, playing in the yard, and working in the garden (well, mostly enjoyable :-)).  We’ve also ventured out to explore nature and visit family and friends.  Here are the children exploring a creek and looking for crayfish:

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Preparing for Winter

Now why would I write in late August about preparing for winter?  Because, over the last several weeks, our family has spent a fair amount of time stacking 16,000 pounds of firewood!  Talk about some good exercise.  Now, we did not cut and split most of it.  Actually, almost all was purchased from someone who already cut and split it (the estimated weight is according to him).  I only split a small amount of my own.  The pictures below show you what 16,000 pounds or four cords of stacked wood looks like:

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The “Because I’m Only Little” Song

Little Gracia seems to have quite an imagination.  The other day, she started singing a song that she apparently made up on her own.  The only lyric is “I don’t know what to do because I’m only little.”  We’re not sure why she came up with that, but we thought it was cute nonetheless.  The song has become somewhat contagious around our house since you could hear any one of us singing it at any given time.  Here she is singing it, or at least one version of it (I apologize for the bad lighting):

Major Expenditures

We’ve had two major expenditures so far this year.  We planned for one but not the other.  The one we planned for was a new roof on our house.  After 22 years, the original shingles were worn so we replaced them with new “30-year”(?) shingles.  So far, they are holding up well.

The unplanned expenditure was a new vehicle.  Our 2002 Honda Odyssey collided with a herd of deer one dark night on a back country road.  No human was injured and the deer got up and walked away.  Hopefully, he/she was OK.  The children were upset because they saw the accident.  We were able to drive home, however the damage was so extensive that the insurance company totaled the vehicle.  The picture below does not really give justice to the extent of the damage.  So, we purchased a 2009 Honda Odyssey.  We like the Odyssey because they generally hold up really well – unless you hit a deer (or rather, a deer hits you).


So, how are we really doing?

Each passing year since Isaac’s death has been easier.  This third summer has been quite enjoyable and a time of bonding for our family.  We still have our issues as most families do, especially when you are around each other almost every day.  We are still human beings struggling to walk out our faith and overcome our sinful tendencies.  Though we experience happiness and joy (we laughed really hard just yesterday while we were together with friends), at the same there are still holes in our hearts.  Every day we miss Isaac.  Though we don’t sit around crying and depressed, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t pain and longing deep in our innermost being.  But, if you ask me how I am and I reply “pretty well,” I am generally being truthful.  I believe that I can only say that I am well because of my hope and trust in God.  Just recently, Brenda said that she can now say Isaac’s name without crying.  It can also be very difficult for some of us to look at pictures.  That being said, and though my intent is not to cause pain, I recently rediscovered this picture from September 2006 that I forgot existed.  It is now one of my favorites.  What I see in this photo is a little boy appreciating the security of a mother’s deep love for him:


Mom kissing Isaac – September 2006

Anyway, I am closing for now.  I hope to write more often in the future.  I don’t have plans for any particular topics, but will probably write about our family happenings, our continuing journey with grief, and topics related to current events and God’s Word.

My hope is that God blesses you richly in your spirit as we wait for the glorious appearing of our savior, Jesus Christ.  Even so, please come quickly!




Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Family Updates

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