Lost But Found
SHOCK #1: There’s a homeless child at my work!
Savanah Patt was just 29 years old when she made the quick decision to adopt a homeless child. The girl was hiding behind a recliner at a nursing facility where Savanah worked as an administrator. The child was filthy, lice-ridden, and had no shoes. Savanah was shocked to see her. “Who is this?” she asked. The resident said, “She’s my granddaughter.”
Nine-year-old, Renlee, had been dumped in her grandma’s room, where she’d been hiding for over a week. Renlee’s parents had lived a life of addiction, forcing Renlee to panhandle and dumpster dive, and they eventually abandoned her. Savanah felt a fierce and immediate love for this little girl whom she calls her World Changer.
“She had my heart. I had no doubts about adopting her,” Savanah said.
Culture shock followed, however, as Savanah learned to parent a child with extremely delayed training and social skills. Renlee had missed a year of school. She was riddled with infections from years of poor hygiene.
“I never wanted her to feel shame, because it wasn’t her fault,” Savanah said. “I was so excited to be a mom, but I didn’t understand that my gain had come because of extreme tragedy for her.”
This revelation came to Savanah on her first Mother’s Day. “I planned to dedicate her at church that day, telling the world I had committed to being her mom forever. I was so excited, but Renlee became very distraught over the loss of her birth mother. I remember sitting against a tree, sobbing, and then, I literally heard God’s voice say, ‘I made you her mother for her sake, not for your sake.’ I suddenly stopped crying and realized, this wasn’t about me—this was about her!”
Shock #2: There’s a sister, too!
Renlee occasionally mentioned an older sister who was “accidentally adopted.” Savanah eventually requested assistance from the Department of Human Services and an investigator, and sure enough, they found Cheyanne, age 13, living with a guardian.
“I requested visitation so that Renlee and Cheyanne could get to know each other,” Savanah said. “On that third visit, I bought Cheyanne a new outfit for her birthday. Little did I know that six weeks later, Cheyanne, my future Heart Warrior, would come to live with me.”
When Savanah got the call that Cheyanne’s guardian had abandoned her at a gas station, she made an emergency call to her attorney and raced to the gas station. Once again, Savanah had no doubts. Her “I’ve got this!” attitude was in full force. “Cheyanne was still wearing the outfit I bought her six weeks ago,” Savanah said. “I pulled up and said, ‘Hey, do you want to live with me?’ Cheyanne said, ‘Yes.’”
Savanah made a whirlwind trip to buy Cheyanne clothes, shoes and bedding; a trip that was overwhelming for Cheyanne, who usually dug clothes out of a dumpster. Back at home, Savanah told Renlee, “I have a surprise!” But Renlee’s reaction upon learning that her newly-found sister was moving in was not positive. Renlee thought she was being replaced. Not only was Savanah having to teach all the basic life skills to another girl, Renlee’s fears caused her to regress, too.
It was over a year before Renlee and Cheyanne started getting along. The sisters finally bonded at Mitch Park. As a single mom and career woman, Savanah had the girls walk from Cheyenne Middle School to the YMCA after school. That winter, they skated every day at the ice rink and soon became inseparable. “That’s when the three of us became the most incredible, beautiful, God-made family.”
Shock #3: The Past is Still Present
Ten years have passed. The girls have graduated high school and become young adults. The Patts decided to share their story, and Savanah is frank about the anger, struggles, and feelings of unworthiness they faced and sometimes still face.
“I feel like this is the highlight reel where everyone says, ‘You were such a hero to save them.’ No! We’ve had successes and we’ve taken steps back, but their story proves that they are fighters. I did the best I could, but there’s no playbook for helping a child who was abandoned at a gas station.”
“My daughters experienced neglect and chaos so long that sometimes it’s more comfortable to them than being healthy,” Savanah said. “At Cheyanne’s adoption, the
girls’ birth mom told them, ‘This is your chance, girls, to break the chain and not be an addict.’ But that doesn’t erase the pain of losing their first mom. They will face the consequences of their childhood throughout their life.”
“Adoptive parents and foster parents are so needed, but make no mistake—you’d better be tough. It can cause you the most pain you’ll ever experience and more love than you can possibly imagine. I may never see all the seeds I planted, and I don’t have to see them—but my commitment to Renlee and Cheyanne is for always, and I won’t ever give up on these amazing girls. They have my heart.