by: mADDIE jOHNSTON
Current CEM Intern
You’ve not truly experienced the “stink eye” until you’ve gotten the stink eye from Savannah for joking that she got less wise after her wisdom teeth extraction. And for good reason—Savannah, whose dry humor and good-natured smile are staples in the current Ranch family, has wisdom beyond her years.
Growing up, Savannah grappled with understanding what she called “tough love” at home. “I’d cry myself to sleep every night,” she said, “because it was either me that was getting yelled at, or it was someone else in my household. And I’d be the one that would be the punching bag.” The stress mounted, and Savannah often awoke sick in the mornings as her body reacted to the emotional strains. Before long, she found herself craving anything to help ease the stress, and she turned to alcohol and marijuana. When those attempts to cope were discovered, she was faced with a choice: complete a recovery program, or spend time in a juvenile detention center.
Savannah knew she wanted the opportunity to carve out a new, better future, so she began a program in Utah. There, however, her hopes for a supportive environment weren’t met, and she experienced more of the “tough love” approach that she had known at home. “Life there was just not the greatest,” she says, and her time was marked by fearful encounters with staff, fights, harsh conditions, and loneliness. She was stunned one day when her dad arrived to take her home; the facility was shutting down and she was to start over at a new site: Christian Encounter Ministries.
Savannah describes her arrival at the Ranch as a relief, and feels God helped work in her a sense of peace about her time here. “My heart became more calm and more relaxed, because I knew this place was going to be a lot better,” she says. At the Ranch, she began to understand that “tough love” doesn’t have to look like how she had known it before. God has allowed her to go through hard things to refine her, and He has disciplined her to draw her nearer to Him—but His love is also gentle and caring. “God is kind and good,” Savannah says. “He knows me.”
Since arriving at the Ranch, Savannah has grown in her sense of God’s direction and wisdom in her life, and in her sense of her own strength and courage. She describes herself as more “open-minded and open-hearted,” not controlled by fear but instead rooted in a deep connection to God. She feels more resilient and stable, and no longer relies on mood stabilizers to help her manage her emotions. She credits the people she’s met at the Ranch, like former interns Lilly and Kate, with helping work that growth in her: “A lot of people have impacted me here. They have different perspectives and different things they’ve been through.” And Savannah has herself become that person for many of her fellow students, leading by example and stepping into a big sister role—even for students who are older than she is.
Savannah’s reflective spirit has helped her to make sense of her past and peace with her present. “My life hasn’t been really easy, but if I hadn’t gone through those hard situations I wouldn’t be in the place that I am in. I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the things I can do now,” she says. She describes the way God teaches her through His creation, using the changing seasons to inspire her: “Autumn is when the old falls away. Winter is a processing stage. And there’s a time for growing in the spring.” And with the recent arrival of spring - the season of new beginnings - Savannah anticipates further growth in herself and in her relationships.