Melanie describes the weeks leading up to arriving at Christian Encounter, “I was really disconnected from the world. I would spend all day at the house… A lot of the time I would have panic attacks at home when I was by myself. I got a service dog and that helped a lot. But the panic attacks didn’t fully stop, they just slowed down.”
Melanie had been attending court hearings and meetings with CPS. In this process, it was recommended that Melanie seek therapy in a residential type setting. She had completed her sophomore year at Forest Lake Christian School, but upon this recommendation, decided to transfer to Christian Encounter where she could continue to work toward her high school diploma.
Melanie arrived at the Ranch with the sole intent of finishing her junior year. Melanie had been exposed to different types of spirituality throughout her life and was leery of a Christian program offering her any kind of actual help. In fact, she was intent on proving that the Christian lifestyle “didn’t work.”
Each new student is paired with a discipler upon arrival, and for the first time, Melanie met someone who had walked through similar life experiences, someone who could empathize with her. In those first few months, Melanie wrote a song and started learning the guitar. When her Bible class introduced her to the book of Ecclesiastes, Melanie resonated deeply with the writer’s cry, “Everything is meaningless!” Although Melanie had walked in Christian circles, she had never actually read the Bible until now. Naturally inquisitive, Melanie began engaging more deeply with scripture.
“Growing up with the religious experiences I had, I felt that God was out to get me…. In a lot of my experiences, I just barely skimmed death…. I watched a lot of people in my life deteriorate.”
As the year progressed, Melanie began experiencing God in deeply personal ways, reckoning with His intimate knowledge and care for her interests and desires.
At the Agony Ride in July, Melanie saw an entire community of people come together to help teens they had never met. On the wilderness backpacking trip in August, when Melanie had sustained an ankle injury, she witnessed her own community sacrifice on her behalf.
“Is He a God of love or a God of punishment?” The evidence for the former was growing.
Melanie stayed at Christian Encounter beyond her initially projected timeline, completing her senior year of high school, earning straight A’s in her final quarter. Melanie is the first to graduate high school in her family. She finished the program in December and plans to pursue a path in forensic biology.