Lantern Lane Farm heals the heart; fund-raiser Thursday
It's a quote Mike Smith lives by.
Max Lucado penned it.
"If you have a pulse, you are going to have pain."
Mike knows this all to well.
A husband and father of two, Mike is the pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet. He said September 2015 is like "yesterday," everyday of his life now.
"This past September our son Aaron took his life," he said quietly. "It's unbearable. It's unspeakable pain."
Aaron was 20.
Mike said there's a very unique and special place in the heart of rural Mt. Juliet where his family is slowly learning the painful process of dealing with life - after Aaron.
Lantern beckons safe place
Tucked within the sprawl of subdivisions and regional malls of Mt. Juliet is Lantern Lane Farm (LLF). Those who visit LLF can breathe fresh air and see miles of pastures and groves. It feels safe, far removed and where stresses are minimized.
At the top of the lane to this place sets a rugged wheel with a lantern hanging. Years ago proprietors would hang lanterns in their windows to let people in need know it was a safe place.
Ralph Cook, along with wife Joni, wants people to feel safe and heal at LLF. Ralph is a licensed marriage and family counselor and practices here. LLF is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that exists to assist in providing "light and encouragement" to those who are spiritually, emotionally and physically needy.
This Thursday this healing place will hold a vitally important fund-raiser at Rock Bottom Stables, located at 594 Northern Road in Mt. Juliet from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. LLF never turns anyone away because of inability to pay for potentially life-saving therapy, so their financial needs continue, and this fund-raiser goes a long way in keeping their services ever growing.
Joni, who is LLF's operations manager, explained she and Ralph started LLF 12 years ago.
"The counseling center operated solely out of our home in Mt. Juliet until last June when we expanded to a second location at 1901 Logue Road," she said.
Currently, they have 10 therapists, four interns and two administrative people serving in the outreach. However, Joni is emphatic to note they "could not exist without our volunteer staff" that has excitedly morphed into the hundreds.
"They step in daily to serve in the offices, feed and groom the animals and help administratively," Joni said.
Yes, she said "animals."
It's important to note the farm has horses. And, these horses, too, have stories. Some are rescues. Dolly, Shadow, Oreo and Apostrophy are their "critter" therapists.
LLF offers Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) and Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) in conjunction with traditional counseling, which "enables individuals to gain valuable insights about themselves and others through interactions with horses."
Ralph believes the tranquil setting on the farm and the interaction with horses help facilitate the healing process.
Ralph moved to this area from Maryland in 1989. He was a booking agent for Christian artists and then went into teaching. He was a long-time teacher at Lakeview Elementary School in Mt. Juliet. He felt he was called to work with the whole family and pursued a graduate degree from Trevecca Nazarene University.
They moved to LLF specifically to do his therapy. That therapy has grown immensely in the 12 years. They've recently added an occupational therapist and two licensed social workers who work beside their licensed marriage and family therapists and LPC's to "enhance the ability of our team to service the community in areas of need such as autism, detainment disorders, socialization skills and much more."
Ralph noted another of their new team members is Julia Johnson, LPC CRC, who serves people with traumatic brain injuries as well as others. There are many other trained professionals who work there.
"A team of skilled professionals can be found at LLF to help people with any area of emotional need they may have individually or as a family unit," Joni said.
'Helps navigate us emotionally'
The Smith family reached out to LLF in their darkest hour (and still today) after young Aaron took his life. Ironically, Mike for years has been associated with Ralph and Joni's work. As a pastor, he deals with people nearly destroyed with emotional pain, and he always knew he could refer them to LLF, and they would find it a healing place. He never knew he and his family would, too, find respite, therapy and healing there.
"Everyone deals with pain on many levels," Mike said. "LLF is full of compassionate experts who know how to help and are committed to healing people, they are so genuine."
He said his son's suicide came as a terrible shock. He said Aaron took his life in the wee hours of the morning that day. And while it's too private and painful to play out the details of that terrible scene in print, Mike did say he will never forget telling his church family the "unbearable" news of Aaron's death. After he did, he walked out of the church, and Ralph was there waiting for him.
"Both LLF and our church congregation have helped our family walk through this journey with encouragement and support during this darkest time of our lives," he said.
He said his family was full of love and laughter. And, no, Aaron's issues weren't related to drugs.
"Aaron got into a dark place in life and instead of fighting it, decided to end it. We poured our lives into our family. We were the normal, healthy family and did life together."
He said no family is immune to tragedy.
"Ralph and his team didn't just listen to our heartache, they also grieved, right along with us," Mike noted.
He said the LLF philosophy is about being comprehensive in their approach to counseling.
"They help in all stages of peoples' lives."
It's a team, he said.
The Smiths take part in both family and individual therapy there.
Mike said he not only encourages people to attend and support Thursday's fund-raiser, but he and his family will be there as well. He wants people to get to know LLF and their good work in the community and beyond. LLF serves hundreds of families each month from across the state as well as out of the area and country via Skype. They've started small groups this year with Misty Price facilitating Journey to Freedom studies. And they have workshops titled Women in Change and Girls Rule. Their website explains all their services. Ralph also leads two-day marriage intensives with veterans referred to them by Battle Flag Ranch (BFR). BFR now leases property behind the LLF location to expand their outreach to veterans in and out of the area.
Mike said the New Hope Church's support has been invaluable during this time, along with LLF.
"No one should walk through pain alone," Mike said. "The human tendency is the deeper the pain, the more our tendency is to withdraw. And yet the great need is always to let others come alongside us. We all need others to walk the journey of life with us."
The fund-raiser will include therapists and board members, as well as Dolly, Shadow, Oreo and Apostrophy. There will be a catered meal, live music and stories of how people have been helped at LLF.
Go to www.lanternlanefarm.org to reserve seats at the fund-raiser and to register.
Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at email@example.com