Wes grew up in a large family. After having two kids of their own, Wes’ parents had adopted four children, including his half-brother. When Wes was born, he joined their family at thirteen months. In the coming years, his parents would adopt three more children and foster several more. Wes didn’t have a shortage of playmates, but the challenge was their lack of permanency. Wes’ parents stopped taking foster kids into their home as Wes neared his pre-teen years, but his parents’ divorce threatened the ongoing stability of the family.
The shared custody agreement thrusted Wes back and forth between homes week after week. Wes’ father continued to abuse alcohol and began to take it out on his children after the separation. As his parents began to independently take disciplinary measures in response to Wes’ behavior, he discovered he could avoid consequences by switching households. Although Wes’ mother would eventually take sole custody of the children, Wes had already learned how to slip under the radar, and once he entered the public school system, Wes was just another kid in a sea of faces.
Wes arrived at the Ranch after exhausting all local schooling options, with a plummeting GPA of .3. He had donned a state of indifference towards life, adopting it as a sort of life motto. Being indifferent meant you couldn’t get hurt. It meant you didn’t have expectations or hopes of anyone or anything, so you could never be disappointed. Being in-different was wearing a protective sleeve over his heart.
Savannah’s family moved when she was about to enter high school, giving her a fresh start. She got involved in a myriad of extracurriculars and was grateful for teachers who were personally invested in her. Savannah attended every football game she could, almost never missed a school dance, and went all out for spirit week.
Though she dove head first into her new school, the depression she experienced as a child had lingered all these years and was only worsening with each poor decision that was made. Savannah moved through a string of relationships, resulting in more pain and confusion, which eventually led her parents to pull her out of school while they searched for a safer alternative.
When Savannah’s parents dropped her off at Christian Encounter, Savannah read their actions as rejection. “I thought I couldn’t be cared about." Savannah’s arrival coincided with Family Camp, which couldn’t have been better timing. Savannah was immediately received into a new, more extensive family unit than her own. The wealth of connection pulled her in and began to fill her heart.
A couple of months later, Savannah was on the side of a rock face, more than halfway through the 15-day backpacking trip in Tahoe National Forest. Tears streaming down her face, Savannah’s cries echoed through the trees as she beat her fists against the rock. Staff member Caryn Galeckas lowered herself down over the ledge to join Savannah. “Why is this such a big deal for you? Why do you feel like you need to come up this? What happens if you don’t?” Moments later another staff member appeared above her. They proceeded to share the gospel of grace with Savannah, awakening truth she had heard many times before. It was half an hour before Savannah would proceed up the ledge, propelled by a new reality. Once on solid ground, she fell into the embrace of her teammates.
Moving forward from that day, Savannah began to see differently. As she wrote her reflection paper on the 15-day trip, she recognized the rejection she had perceived from her family wasn’t rejection at all. She realized that love was not something to be earned or won, that her personal worth was separate from the challenges she faced in life. “I have tried to replace my family in the past, but I don’t need to do that anymore. I care for my family more than anything…”
As Savannah began learning how to walk out these truths, her desire to be baptized resurfaced and seemed like a logical next step. Surrounded by her family and friends, Savannah made a public profession of faith this past winter.
When prompted for personally significant scriptures, Savannah recites Proverbs 27:5 among a few: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” Savannah now recognizes the courage it took for family members and church members to confront her when they did. The consequences could have been irreversible had they waited much longer.
“When I came to the Ranch I made a goal to experience and understand the true meaning of God’s love before I finished my stay...The community and fellowship at the Ranch is so welcoming and accepting that I was able to experience a love that I had never comprehended: agape, an unconditional enduring love. 1 John 4:12 states, ‘No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.’ His disciples at the Ranch took me in with arms wide open and loved me even when I made it painfully obvious I was not perfect...The Ranch has become many things to me: a family, a home, an enduring sense of hope, and most of all a titanium reminder that God’s love will never fail and never end.”
This content is featured in our June newsletter.
A Colorado native, long winding roads and sweeping landscapes set the backdrop of Cassidy’s childhood. Cassidy grew up the middle child of three siblings. Her father departed abruptly when she was three years old, leaving her mother in the lurch and Cassidy with unanswered questions. After working a full day, her mother often pawned off the children to a nearby relative in the evenings to pursue other relationships.
When Cassidy officially joined the family, and as she settled into routine, it was clear that she was emotionally flatlining. Cassidy had trained herself not to show emotion early on, and the trauma of her childhood was gaining on her.
Amanda was strangely quiet as a toddler. When most her age were saying their first words, Amanda didn’t utter a sound. Her delayed speech was later attributed to abuse in the home. Amanda was removed from her birth family at age two, to be adopted into a family of 11 children, four of whom were already out of the house, the remaining seven all adopted. Amanda loved the vibrancy of a full home.
After Amanda entered the first grade, the family had just moved to Colorado, when her father was taken away. Shortly after, her brother, Rafael, also left, and one of her sisters ran away from home. Without any explanation, Amanda was left to interpret these events on her own. Confused and sad, Amanda, struggling to express herself, was often in tears. Though she began to see a counselor, she wouldn’t speak.
Four moves and several years later, as Amanda was entering high school, she was the only child left in the home when Rafael returned to live with them. Having just moved to a new neighborhood, Amanda was hopeful for a companion in her brother to ease the difficulty of making new friends, but her hopes were quickly dashed as she found herself walking home alone from school every day. Amanda reflects on her struggles in communicating: “I started to feel like I didn’t matter...I felt like I couldn’t open up; I felt like that when I was younger, also. That was an issue for me. It led me to making decisions that weren’t right.”
Amanda started seeing a guy who was also her ticket into the drug scene. Up until then, Amanda had been faithfully attending youth group. One night, she arrived under the influence of drugs, and when her leader caught on, Amanda was too ashamed to return. Amanda started to associate with a new crowd of people where the drugs were stronger and the stakes were higher. Amanda was returning home from the park one night when she was choked and sexually assaulted by the male that was escorting her home. Amanda began to crumble inside. Though her mother immediately detected something was wrong, Amanda instinctively gravitated toward her boyfriend. Depression and anxiety began to set in.
One day at school, a family history project was assigned and everyone was asked to share in front of the class. As Amanda delineated her family tree, embarrassment and shame overwhelmed her. More than ever, Amanda yearned for a father, for someone to care for and protect her. Amanda desired to share with her mother all that was going on inside her, but shame overtook her. She began to despair of her very existence.
One of my victories is I didn’t run out today. Just to smile is a victory to me. When I help people - that’s a victory to me…” Kelsey recounts victories gained during her nine months at CEM. “I’ve overcome the lie of not feeling loved... Even when I get really sad, I can’t say no one accepts me anymore. I can’t say that in front of certain people...It sounds stupid, because it’s not true.”
When Kelsey arrived at CEM for a tour, it was two days after what would have been her first day of senior year at the local high school. Her anxiety had become debilitating - she was unable to return to campus. That summer, Kelsey had hardly been home, spending her days and nights at the river, only coming home every few days for a change of clothes. Smoking had become a way of life, whether with friends or alone. Kelsey had gained a reputation as a stoner and a blackout drunk.
Kelsey’s anxiety had first begun to surface as she entered her freshman year of high school. She found herself staying away from social settings while her twin, Lylli, began to build other relationships. Kelsey was easily intimidated and struggled with her appearance and how others perceived her. As she withdrew, and as Lylli navigated the social scene with ease, Kelsey only grew more self-conscious. Previously a regular churchgoer, Kelsey stopped attending altogether and even going to school was a daily battle.
As high school continued, Kelsey would eventually return to church to find sanctuary, but the four walls began to feel more hollow as she was seduced by drugs and alcohol. She found acceptance in a deceptively carefree lifestyle that would only demand more of her. Over time, constant exposure to a new genre of music stoked a growing appetite for heavier drugs.
When Kelsey came to CEM, she barely had any time to settle in before she was catapulted into Tahoe National Forest for a 15-day backpacking trip. Kelsey was enthralled with the beauty of the outdoors, and she was also grateful for a two-week head start on sobriety. Climbing rock faces, swimming in lakes, and sleeping under the stars stirred her soul.
Reintegrating into the structure of daily life at the Ranch was difficult, but as Kelsey began to submit herself to the program and to daily spiritual disciplines, she began to discover a new rhythm. “Just praying when I’m hurting is a victory. I used to not pray at all…I love worshipping God [through song]...” Kelsey has enjoyed spontaneous worship sessions with intern Olivia and recently had an opportunity to co-lead worship at a local church.
Kelsey recognizes that engaging in worship is one of the only ways her mind can be completely freed from her anxious thoughts. Though it often feels like battling anxiety is an uphill battle, Kelsey can see visible progress as her mind is renewed and she puts on truth. She recounts a significant counseling session just a couple of months ago: “I couldn’t forgive myself for what I’ve done in the past. I was so rebellious to God. I was disrespectful to my parents; I didn’t even see that was a problem. That’s why I was so angry...Elise asked if I wanted to pray and ask for forgiveness. I asked for forgiveness and confessed my sins…”
Our prayer for Kelsey is that she would daily experience the forgiveness that was bought on the cross and that she would continue to step into greater wholeness as she beholds Christ. Kelsey is on track to graduate high school this month and will be surrounded by a small army of her biggest cheerleaders. “I’m achieving what I thought was impossible.”