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.
Alcohol became Amanda’s sedative of choice, eventually landing her in the county jail for a night. It was then her mother brought up the possibility of coming to Christian Encounter. Though resistant to the idea, Amanda came for an interview in early spring and was accepted into the program. Then Amanda took another detour. Homeless and jobless, she was back on the streets, fraternizing with drug users and Wiccans. It wasn’t until months later that Amanda reached out to us asking if there was still a spot for her in the program.
As Amanda reflects on her nine months at the Ranch, she enumerates her memorable experiences in rapid succession. Amanda recalls her first time being welcomed into a staff member’s home, then thinking it was a strange practice. She remembers feeling embraced by a local family at the Ranch’s Thanksgiving feast when her own family was unable to attend.
Amanda looked to her March birthday with nervous anticipation, unsure of what to expect on a dry campus. After the evening had ended, Amanda concluded, “People really do care for me!” As time went on, Amanda found the staff and interns to be consistently kind and patient, even when administering consequences. Amanda found herself returning to a new kind of normal - a normal that also included devotional times, church, and uplifting music. And with this new normal came the freedom and space for things to settle within herself.
Amanda entered June break with trepidation, unsure of what the next eight days would hold. Immediately the opportunity to leave with her boyfriend presented itself. Amanda’s stomach was churning as she weighed her options. Marriage had seemed so promising just a few months ago.
Amanda chose the narrow road and returned to the Ranch single, where the reality of her decision hit her full force. It wasn’t just the emotional weight of this single decision, but of every decision she made before coming to the Ranch. Amanda recounted the times when her life could have stopped short and marveled at the opportunity to start again. Amanda recognizes the power of prayer at work in her life - from her initial decision to come to the Ranch to every subsequent decision that has kept her here. “I can tell this place has changed me. I don’t have anger. I don’t have grudges. I don’t have an urge to get drunk…I’m learning how to rise up and make a change for my future.”
- Zoya Lee