If Julie and Rusty Bulloch were innkeepers in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, they would have found an indoor room for Mary and Joseph, and maybe even redecorated it to make it more homey.
That life-affirming spirit is evident in season two of their UP TV reality show “Bulloch Family Ranch,” in which they invite an unwed pregnant mother to live with them so she has the support she needs during her difficult time. Along the way, the series also explores themes like adoption and miscarriage that are not often addressed in popular culture.
For over 15 years, Julie and Rusty have welcomed troubled teens and young adults into their home to give them a stable family life. When producer/director Ian Wisniewski found himself at their ranch a few years ago, he thought they would make for inspiring television.
“Bulloch Family Ranch” debuted in summer 2013, and also featured Julie and Rusty’s grown biological children, Brodie and Amanda, along with Amanda’s husband Steven and their daughter Raylee.
I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Julie and Rusty prior to the series debut, and am even happier to announce that The Christophers will be honoring the pilot episode with a Christopher Award this year. Viewers also responded to this look into the life of a Christian family doing its best to help those in need, so the show was picked up for a second season, now airing on UP TV Wednesday nights at 9:00pm Eastern.
Season one’s most heartbreaking episode involved Amanda’s miscarriage. During a new interview last week on “Christopher Closeup,” Julie and Rusty explained that the producers offered to keep this experience off the show so the family could endure their pain in private. Julie talked to Amanda, who said, ‘Mom, they need to film this. If it can help one person go through something like this, then it wasn’t in vain.”
Julie notes, “No one ever talks about miscarriage. People think, ‘Oh, it happens. No big deal.’ No. It’s life-changing.”
The rawness and honesty of that episode resonated with viewers, resulting in many young women sending Amanda messages, saying, “Thank you for showing this. I went through the same thing.”
In one instance, the episode even saved someone’s marriage. A woman approached Rusty after a local football game and explained that she suffered a miscarriage around the same time the show aired. “While I was inside mourning and depressed,” this woman said, “my husband was outside chopping weeds and washing the car. I began to hate him.”
Then this woman saw Rusty on TV coping with Amanda’s loss the same way. He was in a lot of pain and needed work to get through it. As a result, the woman forgave her husband and told Rusty her marriage is now stronger than ever.
The miscarriage storyline continues in season two because Amanda reveals that she’s suffered through four more since the previous season’s shooting ended. It takes a toll on her and affects the way she initially reacts to Ciara, a new resident in the Bulloch’s home, who has a three-year-old daughter and is expecting another child.
“Every Child Has Greatness”
Julie had known Ciara in the past because she was the girlfriend of former Ranch kid, Shawndell, who is now in jail for violating parole. The couple had a daughter together, Shania, age 3, that Ciara is now raising on her own while also being pregnant with a child from another father.
In one memorable scene, Ciara reveals to Julie that she became so desperate to earn enough money to live on at one point that she briefly worked for a drug dealer. Though it’s obvious she regrets this decision from her past, Julie’s ability to listen non-judgmentally is remarkable in itself.
I asked her why that reaction is so important to getting a young adult like Ciara to follow a new path, and she said, “We’ve all made mistakes. None of us are perfect. It’s a good thing we don’t have to all stand and account for everything we’ve ever done. With all the kids that come through our door, we tell them, ‘I don’t care what you’ve done. When you walk through our doors, it’s a new day. You forget the past, and you move forward.’”
In episode two, airing March 6, Julie applauds Ciara’s decision to move forward with the pregnancy early on when she could have chosen otherwise. This isn’t a sentiment that’s always aired so publicly, but Julie shared the reason for her view with me: “There are circumstances where the conception of the child may have been a mistake or not planned. It still happened. But I believe that every child that is born is a gift. Every child has greatness, and it’s up to us to nurture that and bring that greatness out.”
Though Ciara is comfortable with her choice to have her baby, she’s unsure whether she can take care of it so she explores the possibility of giving it up for adoption. She discusses it with the Bulloch’s pastor, and also discovers that another current Ranch kid, Wilson, was adopted himself and appreciates the opportunity his birth parents gave him for a better life. “We’re breaking ground,” says Julie about covering these issues that are not openly discussed on TV.
The Difference Between Success and Failure
In light of the struggles both current and former Ranch kids have endured, I wondered if they ever fall into the trap of feeling sorry for themselves. Rusty said, “We make sure they understand what’s done is done. You can dwell on it and be a failure or you can get over it and be a success. You can tell me about it and we’ll pray through it and we’ll figure things out. But if you want to use bad things in your past to be a crutch for you not being a success, I’ll say, ‘Get real.’”
Julie added, “He’s the tough one; I’m the tender one. I will sit there and cry along with them. It’s like their pain is transferred to me. Through all that, my response is, ‘I can’t explain why this happened to you. I don’t know why. Did God make this happen? No. Was it allowed? Yes. Now, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to let it destroy you? Or are you going to let it make you stronger?’ That’s your choice. Life is a choice every day. You make a good one, you make a bad one. At the end of the day, it’s on your shoulders.”
A Real Family’s Struggles
The other cast members this season are facing important choices as well. Julie and Rusty’s son Brodie has bought his own house and become the youngest supervisor ever at the warehouse where he works, yet he’s also trying to figure out a career path that will leave him happy and fulfilled in the long run; Amanda’s husband Steven got laid off from his job and, like a lot of people in the current economy, is forced to go back to school to prepare for a career change; and Ranch kid Jordan is trying to get good enough grades in school and perform well on the football team so he can get into a good college.
All these storylines tie into Julie’s hopes for people who watch “Bulloch Family Ranch.” She said, “I want people to realize that we are a real family. We deal with real issues and try to work through them in a godly way…The goal of the show is to show it’s much more rewarding to give than to receive.”
In conclusion, Rusty added, “We want some part of the show to touch people, [to make them say] ‘I need to spend more time with my kids, I need to spend more time with my family.’ You go to a restaurant and you sit there and see all the kids using iPhones and iPads, while mom and dad are at the other end of the table. Cut that garbage out. Start having family time. Sit down with your kids and say, ‘What’d you do at school today?’ Just spend that time with them.”
(To hear my full February 2014 interview with Julie & Rusty Bulloch, click the podcast links):
Christopher Closeup podcast – Julie & Rusty Bulloch, Part 1
Christopher Closeup podcast – 1) Julie & Rusty Bulloch, Part 2, and 2) Amy Kuebelbeck