Story of Summer Programming Session 6

Lighten the Load

Eager eyes. Eager eyes filled the bus as we rumbled and groaned under the weight of the full hearts that boarded it. Some not knowing what to expect, and others being long-time veterans of The Ranch, buzzed with chatter and excitement of the time to come. Departing for The Ranch with all the baggage the bus could hold, familiar songs, mountains of laughter, and the occasional “are we there yet” outlined the ride.

Upon arrival, as we unloaded the bags from the bus, we waited for them to be unpacked. Yes, the swimsuits were torn from the pouches of the suitcases within hours or arriving, but that was just the beginning. We allowed our students to unpack every figurative “bag” they had packed as well and brought with them as “baggage”. The bags filled with so much sorrow, incredible scars of abuse, and the bursting backpacks full of pain. With each activity and moment that was filled with intentional and loving conversation, the bags were gradually unzipped. The contents were full of anger, violence, sadness, neglect, anxiety, emptiness and so much more. But these contents were the outer garments that carefully concealed the real reasons that lied under the surface.

As our students began to become more comfortable in the safe and nurturing environment of Wildwood Hills Ranch, the zippers began to open wider. As sweet little Sierra’s bags were unzipped the screaming began. The retaliation, the storming away, the constant power struggle – all of these began to reveal her need for love. The harder she pushed, the harder we loved and pursued her aching heart. Allowing her heart to cry for so much help left so much room for a loving Savior. As we pursued her, she began to see the relentless love and care we genuinely had for her. She shared the pain of missing her birth mother and even hearing her agonizing screams in the silence of the night. She allowed her bag to open wider, and the contents to spill out, revealing the gaping hole in her heart that could only be mended by The One who created her. We loved her relentlessly and as we did so she began to slowly cling to that love and hope. She began to draw near instead of to run away.

The love, the trust and the healing that we gift to the vulnerable youth we serve is ongoing. No, situations are not transformed instantly – that is why we make a ten-year commitment to the youth that we serve and pour into them from age eight to age eighteen. We develop relationships that change lives. Whenever they leave The Ranch to return home, they leave with their bags a little lighter, full of hope and knowing that they are fiercely loved unconditionally. All the fun skits, all the stories, all the educational programming we provide have the same deeply rooted message: You matter. You matter to God and you matter to us. God is able to change everything. As the bags are unpacked the Lord begins to take the pain and turn it into something beautiful. He bares the burdens of our little friends and repacks their bags with love, mercy and hope.

-Kierra, Summer Staff Leader