Simple Blessings

The Official Blog of Coyote Hill

And He took them in His arms and blessed them... Mark 10:16


I Am a Foster Mom

One of our Home Parent Moms, Merri Heberlein, wrote the following as the heart-wrenching day approached for her to once again say good-bye to a child in her home:

Merri, with her son Lex

I am a foster mom. I fight for re-unification, healing, and restoration. I help my children find forever families. I teach them to walk forward, seeking the light of a future unseen.

I love what I do and am blessed, but I go through many days that are hard. I cry over my children, I pray for them and with them, I listen to their stories, I enjoy their laughter, and I hold them dear. I call them my own, I invite them into a special place in my heart…and then I let them go.

Some don’t understand how I can do this. Some days I struggle myself, knowing that I will eventually have to watch them go; handing them over to different parents and families. I want to hold onto them forever, but they are a gift, a blessing that are not mine to keep. I know I am called to do this. Even though I don’t want to see my children go, I know that’s what God has called me to do. It is not easy watching them go – not knowing what is to become of them. Not knowing can be so painful at times.

Last night I prayed that God would give me comfort. I know I am doing His work, but sometimes I just don’t want to say good-bye. There is no way around it…when they move on it is hard! So I, like a little girl in her daddy’s arms, said, “Please help me walk this path. Please let it be ok to let them go on the path that You have designed for them.”

With that, I rested. This morning when I woke up, this is what was on my heart:

I am an instrument.

I love to play and sing music to God, and I know He enjoys my songs. I can not feel more at peace than when I am in His presence, worshipping. Being an instrument for Him will not always be easy. He is the Conductor. I am simply a part of His beautiful choir. Many times I want to sing and play the melody, finding it difficult to to be a harmonizing note. Most sopranos know this can be a struggle…to play a supportive role in a chord, rather than the beautiful highlight. But I am being called to find the heart of the chord, holding others above me, letting their melody soar among the rafters.

That nudging, that still small voice, went on to say, “You are doing a wonderful job. I know it is difficult for you, since I have not allowed you to see the sheet music. I know you struggle for harmony, since I do not always allow you to hear the notes around you. I know you think you are not strong enough to sustain a harmonizing note, but you are strong enough through Me. I know that you want to be able to hear their song, but you are not ready to hear it. You have a part to play in this song we are singing together. It is unclear, but I am calling you to sing it, and your part is beautiful. Do not be afraid. Respect my plan, and Trust Me.”

The thought of letting them move on and leave had never felt more beautiful and peaceful than it did this morning. It was humbling and graceful. As my children continue to move on, I hope to have played my part. Both their song and my song are changed forever! We are bonded in love, even if this is where a line of the song ends.

May you be blessed with the assurance that He finds your song beautiful.
–Merri Heberlein


Kids are a Tough Audience

“I love kids, but they are a tough audience.” ~Robin Williams

Regardless of your feelings about Robin Williams’ passing, that particular quote proved to be true this past Saturday at The Hill.

The MU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Raptor Rehabilitation Project sent a group of three volunteers and four raptors to do an educational presentation for our kids and staff. Over 60 people gathered for the event – the majority of them under the age of 12.

Abby, Denise and Woodrow did a great job answering the WIDE array of questions from our kids!

That created some challenges for the presenters. The normal stuff, like trying to keep everyone quiet and still, was even more imperative around these wild animals who are not accustomed to lots of human noise and activity.

Additional challenges with an audience of children turned out to be rather comical. Oh, the questions children can ask! It began even before the first bird was out of its box. Woodrow, one of the volunteers, was explaining to the kids how they get their birds.

“When someone finds an injured raptor, it comes to us so we can help it recover,” he began.

“Do they die?” one youngster interjected.

“Well, we do our best to help them – but yes, some of them do die.”

“What happens when they die?” was the next impromptu question.

“They’re dead…”

“So what do you do with them when they’re dead?”

“We have to call another organization that comes to take them somewhere else,” was the quick and non-specific answer, that didn’t quite satisfy the curious audience.

“We just buried our cat when it died – why don’t you do that?”

“Unfortunately it requires a lot more paperwork than that!” Woodrow laughed, and then quickly tried to change the topic. “So, the birds that heal and survive are all released back into the wild if they recover completely. But sometimes, they don’t heal completely and can’t return to the wild. For instance, most of the birds we’ve brought today cannot fly.”

“Oh – so they are PENGUINS???!” one excited young lady exclaimed.

Yup…kind of a tough audience. But oh, so fun.


Shoes on the Wrong Feet

The following conversation happened many years ago between a sweet lady at church and one of our Home Parent Moms.

Lady: “Ma’am, your boy’s shoes are on the wrong feet.”

Mom: “Yes I know, but he tied them himself for the first time today.” Read the rest of this entry »


Valentine’s Day – Protect Their Hearts

Our Executive Director, Larry McDaniel, shares words of warning and encouragement for parents concerning Valentine’s Day:

As a young boy in grade school, I remember the Valentine’s Day event in which we were all expected to participate, each bringing Valentine cards for other students in the class. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea to the teachers in charge, but for some in the class it was a day of tension, broken hearts, embarrassment, humiliation, and shame. There were the popular kids in the class who exchanged their little Valentine cards amongst each other with great merriment and cheer. There were the kids in the “middle class” as it were, who could expect to be treated civilly, both because of the day being celebrated and the fact that they were not in the “lower class.” The kids in the lower class, however, would just be glad when the party was over, so they could once again go back to living out their lives in whatever corner they usually called home away from home.

Get involved with your children this Valentine's Day

Here’s how it worked. If you were one of the more popular kids, or best dressed, or cleanest, or well mannered, or with good grades, everyone would be quite happy to receive a card from you. In fact, the moderately popular kids considered it somewhat of an honor to actually get noticed, even if it was somewhat required. But the kids in the lower class group would never expect such a gift from someone at the top, and would probably consider it some kind of cruel joke if it actually happened. Those kids in the lower class group likely never considered giving a card to those at the top. It’s an unspoken rule. You just didn’t do it. The risk was too high and the potential laughter and mocking would be too painful.

Parents, take back Valentine’s Day for your children, including your older children. Don’t let fate dictate what happens to their heart on that day. Don’t let others decide their value as a person. Find ways to communicate to your children how important they are to you, and that they capture your heart completely. For ideas of ways to do this, do an Internet search of the phrase, “Valentine’s day with your kids.” Sort through all the ideas you find and choose one that is a good match for you and your children. Make sure your children have a memory of Valentine’s Day that is treasured and brings a smile to their face for the rest of their lives. You can do it. You absolutely can do it, and will be forever thankful that you did.                                     ~~Larry McDaniel


Wanting To Be Found

Our Executive Director, Larry McDaniel, shares some thoughts and insights following a recent run away situation at Coyote Hill:

It was moving from late afternoon to early evening, and the setting sun was quickly leaving darkness in the woods and only moonlight in the fields. The temperature was moderate. Certainly not dangerous, but a little colder than comfortable. The teenage girl we were looking for had had a rough day … mostly of her own making, but still, a rough day. Finally, instead of letting us help her work through the issues, process things, talk about them, or even completely ignore the realities of the situation – sometimes kids (and adults) say they don’t want to discuss things, but they won’t let them be ignored either, so – she decided to just run away. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does we have a protocol we follow for the safety of the child. Part of that protocol is that if we don’t find the child within minutes, law enforcement is notified to help with the search. Sometimes kids will “run away” to the back yard, or behind the basketball court. Sometimes, as a young child, I would “run away” to the barn.

On this particular evening, however, the minutes had passed, the phone calls to law enforcement had already been made, and we were making one more sweep through the woods just to be sure. She would have heard us approaching on the ATV we were using to search the area, but she remained seated at a corner in the road, and was easily spotted by us as we approached. I asked if I could walk her home (we were actually less than 200 yards from the house) and she agreed to join me, while the others returned with the ATV.  On the way back home, we talked about all that had happened, the things going on in her life, and what possible options there might be at this point. But the parts of the conversation I remember the most had to do with her experience with running away. What was going through her mind? What was she hoping to accomplish? What was her ultimate goal? The answer to these questions can vary by the person and circumstance, of course, but for this particular teenage girl, the answers reminded me of how we, as adults, behave sometimes as well. Following are at least three ways I have found that to be true.

  1. We run away …
    All we’re really trying to do is to get someone’s attention at a whole new level. This is more about us (doing the running away) than it is those trying to understand or to help. Others say they are listening and paying attention, but we want to be sure. One way to be sure is to elevate the situation to a new level such that it would be impossible for anyone to ignore and not take seriously. Adults achieve this in different ways, but the desired effect is the same.
  2. … but we don’t run far.
    This is because we don’t really want to run completely away … just enough to make it respectable. We know that the home we are running away from is actually one of the best things that have ever happened to us, so we don’t want to lose it. We don’t even want to let it get out of our sight. We want to know that no matter what happens, we can safely find our way back home and try again.
  3. We pretend to hide, but we really want to be found.
    One of the first things the girl said to me when we started walking back to the house was, “I could have hidden from you if I wanted to.” It was important to her that I understand she was in control of the situation. But I also knew it was very important to understand that in her heart of hearts, she truly wanted to be found. That’s why she decided to sit down by the edge of the road when hearing us coming that way. She wanted us to look for her, and she wanted us to find her. We’re all that way sometimes. We run away from challenges or problems, or people … perhaps even family … but down deep inside we hope those family and friends bother to look for us, because we desperately want to be found. It shows that people really care. It shows there is a future.

Remember, in your relationships in life, if a family member, friend or loved one “runs away,” but doesn’t run far, they really want you to look for them. They won’t hide for long. They really want to be found. You’ll find them just a little ways from the house, sitting by the edge of the road, and down deep inside they are very happy to see you.                    ~~Larry McDaniel


Horses as Teachers – What One Volunteer Learned

“Rock, paper, scissors is always the best way to make decisions.”

Kelsey Bolte, an MU service learning student that volunteered with our Equine Program this semester, shares about her experience while volunteering at Coyote Hill, as well as 15 enlightening things she learned from the kids and from the experience…

My service learning project was working as an Equine Program Assistant. I completed most of my hours at the arena, but also spent a few days working with children in their homes doing things like tutoring or simply enjoying dinner with the family.

Riding preparation requires a lot of work (and patience)

As a program assistant, I primarily taught children horse handling and riding skills. The children are expected to handle, groom, and tack up their horses by themselves, but I was always there to lend a helping hand if a child was struggling. The children all have different levels of experience and skill, but it was my job to help make sure each individual was always set up for success. My main goal was to help them build confidence in themselves, and take pride in the things they accomplished while working with these wonderful animals.

Animal therapy (specifically equine) is one of the topics we spent a significant amount of time on my college class. It has been proven in many studies and real-world applications that horses possess a gift that can affect people of all ages in very special ways. Equine therapy has a wide variety of benefits. The children at Coyote Hill have emotional needs that range far beyond yours and mine. The horses at Coyote Hill provide these kids with a friendly face that is always welcoming and willing to make them happy. The children absolutely adore the horses, and often do not want to leave the barn. They hug and kiss their horses, and often times we hear them saying “thank you” to their horses for providing them with a fun ride that day. This type of behavior is always very rewarding for me to see. The children are not only building confidence, but also building a relationship with an animal based on companionship, love, and trust.

There is nothing negative I can possibly say about Coyote Hill. All of the staff and children are ready to welcome any who walk through their doors, and they will make you feel more appreciated than you have ever felt in your life. I learned so much during my time at Coyote Hill…

  1. Children are extremely forgiving, despite what their past holds.
  2. When a formerly abused eight-year-old runs up to me with a huge smile and hugs me each time she sees me, my heart will melt and I will fight back tears every time.
  3. Horses are great teachers, and they teach children to be humble.
  4. Rock, paper, scissors is always the best way to make decisions.
  5. If a six year old can manage to handle, groom, tack up, and ride his horse with hardly any help, anyone can!
  6. It is always okay to ask for help.
  7. Riding a horse creates a smile on a child that can light up the whole world.
  8. To watch a child brush a horse and talk to the horse like it is their best friend is perhaps one of the sweetest sights that exist.
  9. Equine therapy has a wide range of benefits that can emotionally help at-risk children just as much as it can physically help disabled adults.
  10. Dinnertime in a household of ten people is one of the most beautiful family moments one can experience in their life.
  11. The Home Parents and employees at Coyote Hill have chosen to not live an average life, but an above average one. They have chosen to be the caretakers of these children no matter what sacrifices they have to make. They are indeed some of the most kind-hearted and selfless people I have ever met.
  12. It is just as important to be proud of other peoples’ accomplishments as it is to be proud of your own.
  13. Working with children that have been marginalized is quite possibly the most rewarding job one can have.
  14. Horses are the most patient teachers. Some will put up with almost anything. One Coyote Hill horse even has a habit of closing his eyes to take a nap while the kids spend up to 20 minutes getting him ready to ride!
  15. Volunteering at a place like Coyote Hill is more appreciated than one can imagine. Best of all, the staff and children of Coyote Hill make you FEEL that appreciation. So much so that you won’t have to wonder if you made a difference…you will know you did. Not many things can top a feeling like that.

The Joy of Horses

joy of horses

Nathaniel riding Ranger on the trail.


A Part of Their Story

Lance helps our kids craft a table to be auctioned at this year's Boots 'n Bids for Kids event.

A child at Coyote Hill is given many intentional experiences and opportunities that they might never have received otherwise. There are the fundamental things such as a safe and loving home environment with a loving mother and father, and emotional, physical and spiritual support. Along with that, we also do our best to prepare our children for life after The Hill, by teaching Life Skills.

One of our staff that helps to facilitate our Life Skill training is Lance Rainwater, our Vocational Skills Director and Property Manager. You can find kids tagging along with Lance wherever he goes and whatever he does on the property. In any given day he may be helping a child learn how to repair a fence or create a craft.

This summer, while the children were out of school, Lance’s position expanded to include supervising three employees who are youth at Coyote Hill. These teens weren’t just handed the jobs; they were required to go through the entire interview and application process, just as they would be expected to do when trying to get any type of employment. Thus, they received instruction in the whole job application process – not to mention the valuable training they received from Lance throughout the summer.

Lance shared one insight that he’s realized after working with his three employees, “It’s fun to see all the little ways kids are influenced by you. For example, I always carry a pocket knife wherever I go. For a basic, all-around, go anywhere, be prepared tool – I just like to carry a pocket knife. As the summer progressed, I couldn’t help noticing that the two boys working for me started carrying pocket knives.”

Lance concludes, “Every time I see their pocket knives, it’s a little reminder to me that I am changing and influencing these kids. I am now a part of their story and I need to make sure I’m a positive part. A good part, a positive part, a mentoring part of their stories…and that’s my whole reason for being here.”


A Living Sacrifice

Sometimes you really get to see God’s hand at work in your life. Sometimes you get to meet people who energize you. Sometimes you get both in one day.

Such was the day that Megan Schultz came to visit. Megan is a reporter for KOMU News. She was assigned a beat called “What’s Working in Mid-Missouri?” Through her own exploration, she chose to dig into Coyote Hill. Megan came to visit on a typical summer Friday afternoon. After she interviewed me about all the “in and outs” of Coyote Hill, we went down to visit with Michael & Kayla Kauffman in The Wright Home. Michael & Kayla were both interviewed about their job at Coyote Hill and the experiences they had. It was all things I had heard before and knew. What I didn’t know was how much it was impacting Megan.

After the feature ran on KOMU, she wrote a blog post about her time at Coyote Hill. You can read the whole post here. For me, the best part of Megan’s visit wasn’t necessarily that we got a spot on the nightly news. It was the fact that she “got it.” Megan looked at Coyote Hill through the lens of faith. When the Home Parents and I discussed why we work here, and why we are building another home; Megan understood the reason behind it. She understood that every single person here is motivated by their belief in Christ and that we are called to work here. We are called to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to the Lord (Romans 12:1). We are called to love God’s children…and we do. We really really do!

Here are some of the things Megan shared about her experience at Coyote Hill:

This wasn’t an organization. These were people living their every day lives. These were people living in humbleness, people living in generosity, people living in love.

People living in the Spirit.

I saw couples surrendering their first years of marriage to be “house parents” to as many as eight foster children at a time, not including their own children. It’s not that they wanted to “have” more than eight children in such a short amount of time, it’s that they felt called to do so. Every minute of every day is filled with caring for these children who have stories of abuse and neglect that would shatter anyone’s heart.

And these children are high-demand. They need extra love and attention, having experienced extreme hurt at such a young age. Many are behind in school, many need counseling, and many just need to know there will be food on the table and a place to sleep every night, no matter what happened that day.

What a life of surrender.

I have to brag on our Home Parents now, because they truly are some of the greatest examples of how a Christian’s life is transformed by the gospel. In the book, “What’s so Great about the Doctrines of Grace,” Richard D. Phillips sums up why Christians decided to serve in this way:

Those who see The Lord in His sovereign glory have an inward compulsion to serve this God.
Serving God is the glory of their lives.
Their service is measured not so much in what they achieve — or what God achieves through them — but rather in the sheer wonder of the God they serve.

I am happy everyday to come to work to be a part of the ministry of Coyote Hill. It is evident that this is not a job to our Home Parents (or any of our staff), but rather a joy. In the homes, where life is busy and constant, this joyful service to the Lord is played out.

The biggest thing I noticed, however, was the way these parents disciplined. They did it with sternness, but also with an incredible amount of sympathy and explanation. They explained why a kid was in trouble, but more importantly, that God still loved him or her despite the mistake. This is something many of the kids hadn’t received before. In their previous circumstances, they would be scolded and sometimes abused as a result of their mistake, not knowing why what they did was wrong.

While my heart ached for the children and their devastating stories, my mind tried to grasp the sincerity of these house parents.  And yet it couldn’t. On my way home from my first trip there, I asked God how he could make such genuine people. I still have no answer.

Be open to answering God’s call for your life. It’ll make all the difference.

If my legacy in my entire life amounts to half of these people’s on a daily basis, I would be satisfied.

“Here I am. Send me!” — Isaiah 6:8


Home Parents Provide Continued Support

Summer is a great time for former residents to come back and visit. Our Home Parents love these visits, as it demonstrates that the child continues to seek the love and acceptance he received while at Coyote Hill.

*name changed for sake of confidentiality

One such visit happened shortly after school was out. Chad* was able to return to The Zimmer Home for a few days. Chad has been living with a family member for a few months now, but was so excited to come back for a visit. Chad accepted Christ last fall while at the Zimmer Home, and while visiting he reminded Charlie that he never had the chance to get baptized. Charlie talked to him a lot about that, did some planning, and was able to baptize Chad that Sunday at church! It was a great testimony to the current children in the home, to see that no matter where they go in life, they’ll continue to be loved and supported by those who cared for them during their time at Coyote Hill.

Another encouraging visit occurred when the Smith* family joined Michael and Kayla Kauffman and kids at The Wright Home for dinner. The Kauffmans had grown very close to the Smith’s children while they lived in the home several months ago, so they were so excited to have the whole family for a visit. The Smiths have been attending church with The Wright Home, and the parents are always excited to give Michael and Kayla great reports when their kids do well. It’s been exciting to see the family growing closer to each other and to Christ!

Thanks for everything you, our Coyote Hill family of supporters, do to support our ministry to children…the results continue even after they leave our homes.