“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.
Just a month and a half into high school, Kalani left campus and took classes online. Because a friend had done the same thing, Kalani considered it an appealing alternative. What she didn’t consider, however, was the isolation her decision would bring. Along with her loneliness surfaced feelings of deep discontent and questions about her intrinsic worth. Kalani began seeking attention from guys and spending hours at her friend’s house engaging in harmful behaviors. Binging and purging entered her daily routine as her depression worsened.
“I really hated my parents. They were very Christian, following the rules and doing everything right. Because my stepsister had gone off the deep end, they tried to pull the reins even tighter on me.” Kalani lied compulsively to cover her indiscretions, all the while producing increasing anxiety within herself, resulting in debilitating paranoia. These behaviors only furthered her alienation.
A few months into her sophomore year, Kalani was exposed. “It was probably the most embarrassing time of my life. But then things just got worse. I was [put] on house arrest. We lived in a trailer…”
A couple of months passed when Kalani was presented with the option of coming to CEM. Kalani gave her tacit approval. “I hated the idea of being in a program. I just hated the idea of being home even more.”
Upon entering the program, Kalani was reserved and outwardly compliant. She was grateful to be in a school where she was actually learning, which was reflected in her classwork. However, as the months went by, Kalani remained withdrawn. Her mind was a prison and the battles she fought within its walls she fought alone. “I was not communicating with people well...I was depressed. I was trying to act a lot better than I was.” Fortunately, one of her fellow students saw beneath the surface, giving Kalani permission to step outside herself.
“I was really scared of changing...I didn’t want to lose what I had before - which was actually nothing. I didn’t want who I was to change; I didn’t even really know who I was because I was different to everyone. I thought if I turned into a Christian I’d be a really boring person.” On the 15-day backpacking trip in September, Kalani acknowledged God for the first time. The months to follow were tumultuous, characterized by cycles of outbursts of emotion and internalized anger.
She began to pray, to listen during church, and to allow truth to penetrate her heart. “People have told me I look lighter...that’s how I feel. God says ‘My burden is light.’”
When Kalani received her program evaluation scores in February, her scores reflected the change she felt was happening inside of her. It was a confirmation of her inner reality. “[My relationship with God] is something more real than I’ve ever felt. It’s hard, but easier than I thought it would be. I don’t feel like I have to earn being able to be in relationship with God.”
Looking forward, Kalani is seeking God’s direction for her future as she plans to graduate high school in June. Please keep her in your prayers!
Written by: Zoya Lee