Friday, December 9, 2011

Candy Land

Last week we introduced our daughter to the classic toddler board game Candy Land. It has been a lot of fun seeing her get excited about playing the game; she asks to play it at least 3 times a day! However, as an experienced Candy Land player there is some work in teaching my little rookie how to play. I find myself constantly repeating the following phrases: “draw a card”, “what color did you get”, “stay on your path”, “it’s your turn to move”, “oops, you skipped a color”, etc. Having played this game so many times the past week I couldn’t help thinking about how teaching Kaylee to play Candy Land is a lot like working with the kids placed in our Cookson family.

“It’s your turn to move”-
We can love the kids and encourage them all we want; but it’s up to the child to move. They are the ones that have to own their own stuff and decide to make a move toward positive change. We are constantly praying that God will change their hearts and give them the power to make the right decisions.

“What color did you get”-
Much of what we do here involves helping the kids learn how to play with the cards they were dealt. Some of our kids were dealt a bad hand and some chose one for themselves. We work on building trust with our kids. That trust allows us to have conversations about the choices they make and to get them to think about the possible consequences- good or bad- that may come as a result.

“Stay on your path”-
Each child that comes to Cookson Hills gets an individualized plan of care. The family of origin, the houseparents, and the social worker work together to help the student develop goals for themselves. This plan of care then becomes the path for the student to follow. We constantly refer to the plan of care to make sure the child is staying on the path.

“Oops, you skipped a color”-
As the students are traveling on the path, they sometimes miss some steps toward their goal. Referring back to the plan of care reminds the child of what they are trying to accomplish during their time with us.

We have kids all over the board. Some days our kids are doing well and moving along fine. Some days they choose the gingerbread card by making poor choices and they have to start back at the beginning. We have a couple of kids who are past the ice cream cone and are very near the end of their time at Cookson. We pray that they will take the skills they learned here at Cookson and use them as they walk though the rest of their life.

I am thankful for Cookson Hills. It is truly a place where children can grow and change if they want. It’s a place where it is safe for them to make a mistake and they are given the opportunity to learn from their poor choices. I’m thankful that children have a safe place where they can find help for their current situation, healing from past wounds, and the hope that they can change and have a better future. Most of all I’m thankful that I get to be apart of God’s work in this place.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Highlights from the past month...

So I have to be honest. The post below was started in October. Yes, over a month ago. I would get a chance to sit down, then the phone would ring, a knock on the door, a “mom, I don’t feel good”, or “can you take me to basketball practice?” Life as a house mom to 8 teenagers and a 2 year old is NEVER dull and the fact that I am talking about Halloween in December should prove that!

Around Halloween we had the infamous Cowboy Jamboree. I should have known that it was going to be a fun day when one of my boys spent all morning gluing toilet paper to his clothes in hopes of being a mummy who we affectionately referred to as “two-ply”. I laughed a lot on Saturday and greatly enjoyed the time we got to spend together. The singles ministry from Southeast Christian Church is Louisville, Kentucky came down to Cookson to run our annual Cowboy Jamboree. They brought candy, contests, candy, games, and more candy, in other words, everyone had a good time. J The day started off with a costume contest and chili cook-off lunch. I don’t think I have ever seen so many crock-pots with various chili varieties. Then the senior class held a pie auction and was able to raise right around $1,800 for their senior trip in the spring. After the auction, the group from Southeast organized stations for us to go to compete with our family. We did the sack race, baseball bats dizzy race, pumpkin slingshot, cow mugging, greasy pig catching, and many more things that required teamwork and laughter. We ended the night with a bonfire and dancing in the road by the barns, so needless to say, everyone went straight to bed when we got home. Thank you Southeast!

Each month we try to all go out as a family and do something different. With an age range from 13 to 17 with a two year old in the mix, sometimes we have to be creative. For November, we went to a corn maze in Arkansas. For two Indiana people, it was great to see corn again, but of course, the cows weren’t far away. For some of the kids it was their first time being in a corn maze and after spending lots of time being lost we made our way to the finish line. There we had a picnic, took a hayride, and lots of other “fall on the farm” type things.

A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving the Christian church in Grove, OK invited all of the Cookson childcare homes to an annual Thanksgiving Feast. We didn’t have to do anything but eat and there was more food then we could have imagined. Then they sent us home with leftovers and a large bag full of necessities for baking. Thank you for being a blessing to us this holiday season Grove Christian Church!

For Thanksgiving some of our kids got to go on a holiday visit to family or guardians while others stayed home with us. The “Jackson 5” that were gathered together on Thanksgiving went to a neighbors to enjoy the company of a total of 25 friends. We pigged out and ended the day with many games of Taboo and some CRAZY Black Friday shopping with Brandon. The holidays are good for the soul and an opportunity to give an honest reflection of all the blessings we have here on Earth amongst the chaos.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thoughts from last night...

I'm in my room minding my own business when all of a sudden I hear..."Mom... (giggle).... Mom... MOM!!! (giggles) Come here! Hurry! (giggles) MOM SERIOUSLY, COME HERE!" More giggling... so I am thinking... Oh good gravy what kind of prank have they pulled on each other that they think I will think is funny. I walk into their room to music playing on the radio and, "Mom!!! They are playing our song!" It's "Under Pressure" by Queen. Just the thought of that being "our song" made me giggle a little because I like to randomly do the beat that Vanilla Ice stole. Then I got to listening to the words as I am dorky "mom dancing" around the hall and heard this part... maybe for the first time. " dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night and love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves..." It dawned on me how much that part spoke to my life. God told me a year ago to go out on a limb on love. Loving God and loving people. Maybe that's why it's "our song". Because both of us "gave love a chance". Blessed.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Long time coming...

I am not sure how we have managed to not post in a month. Here are some highlights…

1. We have another family member! A houseparent couple finished up there 14 years of dedicated, selfless service and we were honored to get one of their previous family members. Our newest edition seems to be fitting right in and we feel blessed to have her.

2. Next week we will be gaining another family member and at that point we will have 9 kids, room for only one more. It’s hard to believe our house is filling up!

3. To enjoy the fall season we traveled to a farm where we went on a hayride, walked through pumpkin patch, and made a scarecrow that we affectionately refer to as Judy.

4. God is speaking to all of us through His word. Right now we are reading through Proverbs and through that book God gives us so much wisdom on how He expects us to act. Each morning we are reminded that we are so insignificant and God is so much bigger.

5. We had the honor of having a former NFL player, Lee Rouson, speak to our kids about his life transformation. He spoke truth in a way that only a NFL Special Team Player of the Year and two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants could. One quote that seems to be a family favorite is when he referred to the Bible as “basic instructions before leaving Earth”. Thank you Mr. Rouson for sharing your heart for Jesus with our kids!

6. Each time we get a new family addition we have a family tradition where we have pizza the night they arrive and then the first Sunday they are there we go out to Taco Tico for fifty cent tacos after church. I am starting to think the workers there get a little antsy when they see the Jackson clan come through the door. This is how last Sunday went down… we park in our spot, get everyone’s taco count, and parade in. Half of us go to save our corner seats and the other half join me at the register. This is how the conversation went… “Hi, what can I get you today? I need 60 hard shell tacos please.
No, 60.
Oh, as in six-zero? (As she looks over my shoulder and towards our corner)
(smiling) yep!
What she doesn’t realize is they were gone faster than they could make them.

7. The kids are currently on “special session” and next week is fall break from school. Our kids go to school year around so the schedule is basically 6 weeks on, 2 weeks off. One of the two weeks they have “off” gives them an opportunity to take a class not offered during the school year, like Art Appreciation, Oklahoma History, Horsemanship, or Life Skills. If a student does not take one of these classes, they could also schedule meetings with their teachers to get extra help when necessary. As a former teacher, I personally LOVE this set up.

8. If I could sum up what God has taught me recently it is a lot about what unconditional love looks like and how I can express it. I think we often feel that we think our kids know we love them, but do they? Do they know we love them when they lie to us? Do they know we love them when they sneak behind our back and do something stupid? Do they know we love them when they bring home an F? Do they think we will love them more if they tell us the truth? Bring home an A? I don’t want any of my kids to feel that my love will change for them over any of the above and I am realizing that whether we like it or not, they do often feel that way.

These are the highlights from the past month… according to me at least. I am sure if you asked other members of the family it would be entirely different. They keep me laughing, that is for sure. I am so glad God gave us laughter. It makes life so much easier on tough days. If you ever wonder how you can pray for us specifically my prayer each day is for everyone under our roof to fall more in love with Jesus and for them to truly find the hope and peace that can only come from having a relationship with Jesus. God is good.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Days Off

Each month house parents get four consecutive days off. At this point our placed kids go to another home on campus to change up their schedule and enjoy getting to know others on campus. For the house parents this is a time to relax; kick back with little to no responsibilities and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit. The days leading up to our first “days off” while having kids in our home was filled with weariness, yearning for a little time to nap and just enjoy some quiet time. When the day came we took them to their home away from home and did a little skip back as I realized the freedom I now had. And then it happened. Not an hour into my joyous “days off” I began thinking, “I wonder how they are doing in school? Did he remember to turn his homework in? I hope he remembers his assignment notebook. Oh no, she left her jeans on the drier; someone’s clothes are going to be stinky. Well look, there is a football jersey still hanging up, looks like we will be getting a phone call on Friday. She would be so jealous if she knew we were having cheeseburgers without her!” I could go on and on and on. Needless to say, I thought about our kids all the time and missed them like crazy. They have completely made their way into my heart. Through the good, the bad, and the ugly I have found them to be true sons and daughters of my heart. At the end of the time away I was overjoyed to hear one rush through the door saying, “DAD! YEAH! It feels so good to be home.” And another saying, “Oh look, MY BED! WAHOO!!” Rest is good for everyone's soul. (Melissa)

Monday, September 12, 2011

3 more on the way

A neighboring couple completed their work as houseparents and move out this week. While we are sad to lose our neighbors and the relationships built with them (especially between Kaylee and their children), we are very excited that some of the children formerly living with them will be moving into our home. In about a week we will grow from 4 children to 7! We we are looking forward to experiencing life with them. So now we are really rolling with the growth of our Cookson family. We are humbled by the opportunities that God is presenting to us and how He continues to use us.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jackson 5… +1

Two “big kids” (as Kaylee calls them) joined our family on August 10th. Out of respect for the children and their family, we won’t share all the details, but will walk you through the intake process for children coming into our home.

We start out with an intake meeting where we meet the family and go over the plan of care for each child. This is to ensure that the needs of each child are being addressed during their time at Cookson Hills. Then their family of origin brought the kids to our home and helped them unload their stuff and move into their room. After the long meeting and move in, we all went to the local Simple Simons gas station/pizza hut to pick up some sodas and pizza.

It would be great to describe the first few days with the children with words like “fantastic” and “wonderful,” but I think the best word to describe them would be awkward. I think it was awkward for everyone at some point those first few days; which is probably normal. If you think about it, it is kind of strange; you meet for a few hours then we are all living together. Some of the awkwardness could be attributed to it being our first placement and these kids had no peers to talk to and learn from in the house. As each day passed, thankfully the tension lessened as we learned about each other. And now it almost seems normal. Kaylee misses them while they are at school and mentions them in prayer every night.

The two kids seem to be adjusting well. They both are participating in sports, which has really helped them meet and form relationships with some other kids on campus. We have had some ups and downs. Melissa and I have learned to be creative with how we teach and enforce the expectations in our home. (Our training in this area has been a great help to us) As we do life together and experience their trials and victories with them they are becoming more and more comfortable with us. We took a family trip to the ballpark the other night and, even though we got rained on, it was fun.

On the 26th we added another teenager to the mix. This transition seemed much less awkward; and I really think already having other kids in the house helped. Our latest family member came in and fits right into our family. We have gotten to spend a lot of time together because we are on a break from school.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Jackson FIVE!

We met with our social worker two weeks ago to learn about our first placed children.  The excitement was slightly overwhelming to hear the names and information on some of the kids we have been praying for since we accepted this job in March.   This week they will be joining our home and we ask that you please keep us in prayer as well as two of our first kids as we all adjust to being the “Jackson 5”. J  I am anxious and joyful to see what God has in store. Let the JOY of the Lord be our strength as we pour ourselves into what God has called us to do.  Please continue to pray for His work on the Cookson Hills campus!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Our Story Video

If you read the earlier post "how our story changed" you know that the National Missionary Convention played a big part in our move to Oklahoma. We shared that with some people who work for the convention and they asked us to tell our story on video. Those of you who attended the North American Christian Convention may have seen it during one of the sessions (we heard it was shown). They are also using it in DVD format for churches to encourage their people to attend the National Missionary Convention in 2011. We are extremely humbled and amazed that God would use our story in this way....check out the video.

Brandon & Melissa Jackson's story - 2011 NMC Promo from Jim Chamberlin on Vimeo.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Things I have learned while in Oklahoma - according to Melissa

1.     Armadillos can’t cross the road. They are much like raccoons with funerals street side.

2.     Black soled shoes can actually beginning burning your feet if you are in the sun long enough in triple digit heat.

3.     I cannot seem to be able to pronounce any towns with Native American names. My phonics skills aren’t cuttin’ it down here in this regard.

4.     A comforter can dry on the clothesline in about 20 minutes. See #2.

5.     Cave crickets, oh how I hate thee. Nothing will stop these little spawns of satan from lurking into our home.

6.     Copperhead snakes are poisonous and seem to enjoy taking up residence in our back yard.

7.     A little paint and a deep cleaning can turn a house into a home.

8.     Air conditioning is one of the best inventions of all time. Second only to the refrigerator. See #2.

9.     Toll Roads are a huge annoyance.  It cost us about $16 to go to Oklahoma City and back.  That seems a little much people.

10.  I will never complain about the BMV in Indiana or Ohio again.  Compared to the system here in Oklahoma, the BMV in IN and OH is like a drive-thru McDonalds. Here you have to go to 3 different places to complete the process and you must arrive an hour before it opens to get in line so that you can be seen that day. Example – the first day we arrived to the place to sign up to get our license we got there about 10 in the morning only to be told that we were too late. I stated… I thought you didn’t close until 3:30? There response… we do, but we already have all the people we can see today. True story.

11.  Sixty people can eat and clean up from the meal, meaning ALL dishes, sweep, set the table for the next meal, put all left overs away in about 40 minutes. Quite a circus act, but it all gets accomplished.

12.  Do NOT admit to a house full of teenage boys that you are afraid of bugs. Teenage boys might not remember to pick up their laundry, but they do NOT forget this valuable weakness.

13.  Teenage boys make great exterminators.

14.  Mazzio’s makes delicious calzones and on Thursday night, they are only $6.

15.  God is good, all the time. It is so great to be doing something He has put into place. We are so happy to be doing His work here at Cookson Hills.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Our first month at Cookson

We left Indiana and made the trip to Cookson in two days (for the sake of our little one). After battling traffic, a U-Haul truck with no air conditioning, and a sprained ankle we arrived at Cookson Hills on June 5th. An army of people welcomed us by helping unload the truck. Less than an hour later we had a house full of boxes and were trying to decide where to start. Thankfully we had a couple of friends make the drive with us and were there to help us put things together. (Thanks again Nikki and Chad!) Settling in meant lots of painting and sprucing up of the house. Here is a before and after photo of our living room.

Living Room Before
Living Room After
When we were not unpacking or working on the house we were in orientation and training meetings and doing various activities to meet people. Everyone has been very welcoming to us and eager to help us when they can. Our new friends (and neighbors) the Kelley’s have been extremely gracious to us and have invited us along to picnics, to the pool, and other activities to show us the ropes and where the good hangout spots are located.

For the 4th of July we went to nearby Siloam Springs, AR with several families from Cookson Hills to watch the fireworks show at the small airport. And wouldn’t you know it, Kaylee and her new friend Caroline made the newspaper!

Friday, July 15, 2011

An Introduction: How Our Story Changed

Our journey to Cookson Hills began last fall and interestingly enough began for each of us individually. We both were on a prayer journey with God and we were feeling a call to work with children in a much bigger way than we currently were as teachers and our hearts were particularly burdened for kids who for whatever reason didn’t have a good home life. As we individually walked down that prayer road with God, the Holy Spirit placed the thought of working at a children’s home on our hearts.

Then on October evening we were talking and we revealed to one another what God was placing on our hearts. Imagine the surprise (and relief!) we felt when we realized that God was speaking the same way to our helpmate. From that moment on we prayed that God would reveal this new path to us and whatever it was we would follow it.

Of course, we didn’t know much about houseparenting or how to get started. Thankfully God used a friend of ours to suggest that we attend the National Missionary Convention and talk to several different children’s homes to get a feel for what God was getting us into. The missionary convention was a tremendous resource to us! We talked to at least ten different children’s homes and were able to get our questions answered. We left the convention with God’s affirmation that we could indeed do this type of work and had several leads on possible locations to work.

After the convention, we began the job search and application process all the time praying that God would “close the door if the place wasn’t right and leave it wide open if it is.” Of course, God did just that. We received several closed doors but then we finally found the right one with Cookson Hills. And as God would have it they were one of the booths we visited at the convention!

We successfully got through the interview process, accepted the job, and set to work to move our lives to a state we had never been to before the interview. All the while, God continued to reaffirm and encourage us along the way, most notably with the selling of our house. We only had our house on the market for a week before we had our first showing and that couple made us an offer. God had a buyer lined up for us and to add grace upon grace they didn’t need the house till June…when we were leaving.

God took care of everything to get us to Cookson Hills, but that doesn’t mean it was a cakewalk. There have definitely been times of struggle and trials to overcome. Seeing how God has guided our path along the way helped us get through those times. And I guess on some level, knowing we were facing some opposition was a good sign for us. For us it meant that if something was trying to keep us from going we were doing the right thing. Proverbs 3:5-6 has been a huge verse for us: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”


Hello and welcome to our blog! We are Brandon and Melissa Jackson and this is the place where we will chronicle our new lives as houseparents at Cookson Hills Christian Ministries. We hope that this blog will be an encouragement to you to follow God’s call to fully surrender your life to Him; whatever it takes!