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.”
Rocky entered the world with the theme song of Rocky playing in the background. His name at birth, Rockford, was quickly shortened to Rocky by his movie aficionado father, and when Rocky’s younger brother was born, he was given the name Maverick, after the lead in another well-known film. Movie nights with the family characterized Rocky’s earliest memories with his father before his parents’ divorce when he was five. After his father left, a year passed before Rocky heard from him, with only sporadic phone calls after that.
“I always wanted to be different. I wanted to stand out.” Upon her arrival at CEM, Kalah’s defining characteristics were her dramatically drawn-on eyebrows and her hair extensions. Kalah’s obsession with image began in the fourth grade, when her unmarred appearance drew unwanted attention from the other kids. From then on, each significant change in appearance would signify an outward response to suppressed inner turmoil.
In the fifth grade, when she changed her appearance, Kalah had just begun to respond to dysfunction in the home. In the sixth grade, Kalah experienced her first betrayal from her best friend, who effectively turned everyone at school against her. In need of friendship, Kalah began to converse with the opposite gender, eventually gaining the reputation unfoundedly as a slut. Kalah began to crumble inside, but rebounded, deciding that if this was the label that was thrust upon her, then she would live up to it in its entirety.
“I started secluding myself in my room a lot. I started buying [provocative clothing], black eyeliner, and had pencilthin eyebrows.” Continued rejection from her peers only reinforced her new behavior and online messaging apps only enabled it. By the eighth grade, Kalah began to slip into depression, immersing herself in the world of Kurt Cobain. Kalah started to self-medicate with prescription drugs and experiment with depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogens. Meanwhile, she had lost herself in this label. “I was always the type to go ten steps beyond everyone else.”
“I was my parents’ first kid - I was not expected... [My mom] got married shortly after she got pregnant. I lived with my dad and my mom until my mom got pregnant with my sister; she wasn’t my dad’s kid. They split up.”
Thus began Kalani’s early years. She and her father moved into his grandparents’ home after the divorce where they would live for a few years before her father would remarry. “I was his whole world - me and him together.” With a new mom came new siblings and new grandparents. Kalani’s step-grandfather pastored a humble church gathering in their home where Kalani would attend Sunday School. As she grew up, Kalani’s church attendance was dictated by the venue of her step-grandfather’s preaching.
When Kalani reached middle school, she continued to attend youth group, but also was drawn to the free-spirited lifestyle embodied by many of her peers. “[A friend] opened my eyes to everything this culture thinks is right.” Though her parents continued to draw clear boundaries for her, Kalani found new ways to evade and to violate them.
It was late in the evening when the doorbell rang. Dorrie, who was four at the time, looked at her brother Zakeri and raced to the door. She was greeted by men in black uniforms, asking to speak with her mother, who had just entered the room. Her mother immediately began shouting at them and told Dorrie and her brother to leave the room. The next thing she knew, she and her brother were getting into a car with the men at the door. It would be the last time Dorrie would be allowed in her own home.
The court did not rule in Dorrie’s parents’ favor, thrusting Dorrie, Zakeri, and their two sisters into the foster care system. It was difficult to keep all the siblings together, but after four moves in six months, Dorrie was reunited with her siblings. This lasted for two years before ongoing abuse in the home was reported, catapulting them back into the system. Dorrie and Zakeri continued on to a few different placements together before Zakeri was adopted by the Collins family. Dorrie proceeded in her search for family on her own.
Zack was standing in the back of the chapel as the speaker wrapped up his last session for the weeklong summer camp. The speaker’s words tuned in to focus again: “God loves you because He made you…” These words echoed in Zack’s head as he bolted for the backdoor, everything within him warring against the speaker’s declaration. God was pursuing Zack, and he had no choice but to respond. That evening, Zack received Jesus as his savior.
With the end of summer came the start of sophomore year - and now Zack was the only child at home. His mother had left before Zack could remember, leaving him and his three sisters with their grandmother and father. Over the years, Kaitlin and Alyssa had moved out, leaving Kara to bear the brunt of the physical and verbal abuse at home. Once Kara left, all attention shifted to Zack.
Sierra was born with a hole in her heart, an effect of alcohol in the womb. Open heart surgery was in order - twice - to patch the hole. As life resumed, Sierra found herself at a horse ranch with her mother. Sierra’s father eventually manipulated his way back into Sierra’s life, despite her mother’s original attempts to create separation.
When Sierra was eight years old, her mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. As Sierra’s grandparents stepped in to care for their daughter, Sierra’s father became her sole caretaker. It soon became apparent to Sierra’s teachers that things weren’t right at home, so CPS got involved. Sierra’s grandparents were granted custody; not too long after, Sierra’s mother passed away.
Elexis was just beginning her teenage years when her father got out of prison. He had been a mere phantom in her growing up years, the occasional phone call reminding Elexis of his absence. It was her eighth grade promotion that set the stage for their introduction. The brief interaction reminded her of the chasm between them that had been growing wider all these years. “I wanted him to understand how I was doing and how I’ve grown. I wanted him to understand me and who I was becoming.”
With her early teenage years also came the birth of a half-brother. Within a short period of time, Elexis’ world had been knocked sideways and turned upside down. Elexis was barely hanging on. She yearned for her mother’s affections, but found herself reviling the woman whom she needed the most. “I didn’t like how I was treating my mom. I said she was controlling, but she was doing everything she could to help me succeed and have a good life...I blamed her for my dad not being there. I was hurt, so I took it out on her.”