Hope Wanted: Inquire Within
February 29, 2016
Jennifer Hagler Photography
By Laura DiFatta
Have you ever gone into a store looking for one thing and then end up leaving with something entirely different? On a recent day this winter, that’s exactly what happened to me. I went into a clothing store with a particular agenda. I could have had no idea what I’d actually leave the store with.
A few feet inside the door of the shop, I was greeted warmly by a salesperson at the store, whose name is Hannah. We chatted politely for a few minutes. I happened to remember that a friend had recently mentioned Hannah’s name to me and had told me how helpful she had been. I passed this compliment on to her. Hannah remembered my friend. As an aside, this friend is currently walking through deep crisis and is doing so with intentional faith in God. Hannah and I began to talk about what an amazing thing it is to witness faith in dark circumstances. Our conversation gradually turned to Hannah’s own experiences of walking through darkness and pain. Hannah revealed something about her past that shocked me. That is when I began to realize the real reason I was there. My agenda went out the window. She had my attention.
Hannah is the kind of girl that if you were to assume anything about her, it would likely be that she “has it made” and that she has led a charmed life. She is a vibrant twenty-two-year old who is beautiful, calm, confident, sweet and has a great sense of personal style.
But, my assumptions about her had been wrong. Hannah began to tell her story: when she entered the seventh grade, she began to be bullied. The people who bullied her had been her closest friends, but they turned on her. Every day, she was laughed at, made fun of, mocked and ridiculed. She was slandered and left out intentionally. She longed to be included and accepted, but she was not. She began to believe what she was being told about herself. And she hated everything about herself. She told me that she cried every single day from eleven years old to thirteen years old and that she began to think that taking her own life would be the answer.
Not only did Hannah experience being ostracized at school, she constantly saw through social media that she was indeed being left out. She had the “proof” before her eyes. Every day–what she perceived as “everyone else being happy and having fun,”—played out right there in her hands on her smartphone. This exacerbated her feelings of loneliness and self-hatred. She began to agree with others: she was a “loser” and her life was worthless. She had very little hope. She wanted to escape from the pain. She had my undivided attention.
In what she deems a divine rescue, God showed up. Hannah needed a haircut. The lady who cut Hannah’s hair exuded joy. Hannah wanted what she had and she told her so. Her hairdresser said that she had joy because of her relationship with Jesus and she invited Hannah to go to church with her that coming Sunday. Hannah had mixed feelings. She was familiar with “church,” but had been turned off by people who claimed to be Christians, but acted very differently from Christ. But, she saw that this lady was different. She didn’t just talk about church, she showed love and she exuded joy! And so, Hannah went with her to church. Once there, she heard a man tell of how he had been a homeless drug addict, but that Jesus had rescued him and freed him from drug addiction and had given him joy and peace and Hope! He said that because of Jesus’ love and power and rescue his whole life had changed! Hannah desperately wanted what he had.
In the past, Hannah had always looked at God as pointing his finger at her in judgement with an expression on shame and condemnation. She had envisioned Him telling her, “You’re just not good enough,” just like all her bullies had done. She definitely hadn’t trusted Him. But now, she was hearing about Jesus—God’s own Son– who actually came to walk this earth to show God’s love in flesh and blood and to seek and save needy people just like her! She realized that He came and paid for her past, present and future sins—her brokenness–and met all her needs—out of love! He gave her what she could never earn–freely—which is what makes the gift of God a grace-gift! She had nothing to give Him, but He offered her everything! The truth that the God who created all things, also created her with inestimable worth began to sink into her thirsty mind and heart. On that day, Hannah’s new life began.
She began to read the Bible where she soaked in Truth that replaced her flawed thinking. What she read transformed her thinking about God and about herself. She read, Truth like: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made,” “you are loved with an everlasting love.” She read that God has “plans” and “good” specifically for each person that He has a “hope and a future” for every life He created. And she realized that every day, she had a choice: to listen to what the world had to say about her or to trust in what God has to say about her. Her choice was so clear that it felt like a choice between life and death.
And so Hannah made her choice. She chose to place her trust in Jesus. She realized Jesus had come to be the Way to forgiveness and peace with God. He became her confidence, her firm place to stand—her Rock. He always was, she just hadn’t known it before. She had been deceived. Where there had been a vacuum of hope there was now a well-spring of joy! Hannah would never be the same. And she’s been praising Him ever since.
And that’s not all! As she began to heal and believe her God-given identity: redeemed, beloved, new, holy and dearly loved, she, in turn, began to tell others about the Hope she had found.
She began to have a passion for giving hope to young people. She knows from experience how inundated and distracted they are by cultural messages that are empty and give no lasting hope. She knows how false and empty and deceiving the constant barrage of social media is. She knows firsthand how desperate young people are to know they are loved and accepted, but that many are basing their worth on things that aren’t trustworthy. Many are hurting. Many are confused. Many feel hopeless.
Hannah shared some startling statistics about suicide and drug overdoses in American teens that shocked me: every single day in America there are an average of 5,400 suicide attempts by young people grades 7-12. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in kids ages 10-24 and the second leading cause of death in college age youth. There is a crisis of hope in our youth.
And so Hannah is on a mission. It is a holy one: she is a determined Hope-bearer! Her message—”God loves you! So much, that He sent His Son to rescue you and to give you new life—now and also eternal life with Him! He is mighty to save!” She wants desperate people to know: “You are not alone! There is no circumstance and no situation that is beyond the power of God to redeem!! You are loved deeply and forever! Your pain and all your brokenness and longings can be made right!” Her eyes were bright and she exuded joy as she talked about this great Hope.
And so, multiple times every week, Hannah leaves the “safe” and goes to the “dangerous.” She sits in a little building that is a place of refuge for the broken, she sits with young women who have only known brokenness. These teens lives have been ravaged by the poor choices of others. They are living in circumstances of brokeness and pain. And they are taking hold of Hope as sure as a person dying of thirst would grab a flask of water. They have seen and experienced the pain of this world and they have tasted the good Living Water for their souls: Jesus! Hannah sits and listens to their stories, she visits them—even some who have been taken by the foster system and relocated—because she loves them. And they know it. She has experienced the love of Christ and she in turn is being the church as the church was meant to be. She knows she is loved generously. And so she loves generously.
The meaning of the name Hannah is, “grace-gift—a gift of unmerited favor.” And in the Bible, Hannah is used as a verb to describe, “a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need.” In the Bible, this is most used to describe God’s actions toward people. God—who is the same yesterday, today and forever–graciously and compassionately gave to Hannah, who had a deep need. And in response, she is going and doing likewise.
God redeemed Hannah’s pain. He allowed her to see the unreliable nature and emptiness of the world’s approval and He drew Her to Himself! God was weaving His love story in all her moments and has given her purpose and joy! He can do the same for you! He writes the script!
I left the store that day with no new clothes, but with something incomparably better: a story of hope! Hope given…through a hairdresser and then a former homeless drug addict to Hannah and now through Hannah to young girls in desperate circumstances…
Who knows where Hope will show up next?! But I do know this, I want to be a part of giving it!
Will you join me?
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
It Happened in Walmart
January 24, 2016
Jennifer Hagler Photography
By Laura DiFatta
It was two weeks before Christmas and I woke up in a bad mood. I was grumpy, sullen and tired and felt overwhelmed by my “things to do” list. Part of my things to do included a visit to Walmart. I know, I know, we are blessed to have the mega one-stop-shopping opportunity. But that same blessing, turned upside down a long list combined with Walmart can feel overwhelming and daunting, at least to me. The upside to shopping at Walmart that day, I thought, was that it is the kind of place that a person can be “alone in a crowd.” That worked for me seeing as I really just wanted to be alone. So, as I was driving and brooding over having to go there, what I can describe only as a small voice from deep within me said, “Don’t you think I could be there, too? Don’t you think I can be useful in Walmart?” It was a nudge. An encouragement for me to look “up.” Hrrrmph. I silently (and somewhat reluctantly) prayed, “I guess so… God help me see as you see and be useful to you,” accompanied by a big sigh.
The first item on my list was makeup. This time, the makeup was not for me, but for a sweet teenage African-American for whom I was buying a Christmas gift. I knew she shares my appreciation for cosmetics, so I wanted to surprise her. But, I was out of my knowledge base because of her skin tone and her age. And the fact that I do not have a girl, so I don’t necessarily know what’s “in.” Fortunately, I happened upon a Walmart employee who was working on one of the makeup aisles. She had the same beautiful complexion of my young friend. I told her what I was looking for and she gave me some great suggestions. She then led me to a nearby display that had even more ideas for teenage girl gifts! She helped me so willingly and with such enthusiasm, that my mood began to thaw. She told me, “If there is anything else you need— no matter where you are in the store— you find me and I will help you.” I was amazed! She even thanked me and said how good I was to do this, and I said “I assure you, anything good in me is not me, but Christ in me.” She said excitedly, “I’m a believer, too!” We talked for several minutes about our faith, encouraging each other and we hugged before we parted ways. Before I left her, I said, “Are you an angel? Because you sure do seem like one.” She just smiled and shrugged her shoulders. I walked away wondering, “Well, was she?”
My next stop was two aisles over in the toy section where I looked for an angel tree gift for a baby. The only other person on that aisle with me was an older African American woman. I spoke to her as I passed her with my cart and we exchanged pleasantries. Then we both returned to shopping. But in a couple of minutes, she said out loud, “I just don’t think I’m going to celebrate Christmas this year. I just don’t think I can!” I quickly looked around and, yes, I was still the only other person on the aisle with her and so I said, “I’m so sorry to hear that. Do you mind telling me what is wrong?” She began to cry and she said that just two weeks before, her beloved mother had passed away and she just could not bear the sorrow she felt. She was very low on hope and that feeling was intensified because of the holidays. I asked her if I could give her a hug and she said yes. And then I asked her if I could pray for her. She held onto me as I prayed for her hope and her strength and her comfort as she grieved the loss of her mother. And I prayed that God would remind her of His love and care for her and of His Presence with her and that Jesus is our Rescuer and that He empathizes with us even as He intercedes for us.
I am not exaggerating when I say, I opened my eyes from praying and–at the maximum–1 foot to my left was a young African American man looking intently at me. He said nothing and I immediately knew. He’d been drawn to the light. I said, “And you need this hope too don’t you?” He nodded. I said, “Because you’ve experienced pain. You know what it means to be hurt and you need hope.” He nodded. As I began to speak the Word of God, he closed his eyes, took hold of my left arm (my right arm was around Josephine’s shoulders) and I said, “OK.” And we went— the three of us: Josephine, Chris and me—to the throne of God in prayer. God had a message of redemption and hope and purpose for these two precious ones; A life and eternity changing message found only through His Son Jesus Christ. I do not know where they stood in regard to their relationship with Christ, but I do know that they needed and were accepting of True Hope. I literally felt like we were on holy ground. Chris said, “thank you,” and smiled and Josephine, exclaimed, “I’m leaving here and I’m getting outside in this bright day and raking my yard and praising God,” she turned around and walked right out of Walmart with a fresh perspective.
The rest of my Walmart experience felt like a dream. Yes, there is such a thing as a spiritual high. Around the men’s socks, I even had two women say, “Look at your face. You are glowing!” I assure you, I had not left my house “glowing” that morning. I had been in the Presence of God. In Walmart.
This week, God has been layering this verse to me: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) I am reminded that: 1) God is the treasure, it is by His grace that He gives us His Spirit by our faith in Christ’s redemption work on our behalf! I might be a jar of clay, but what I hold—what every believer holds is a treasure beyond compare! 2) His Spirit is at work and we get to be a part of it! 3) We really just need to be willing and confident in Him (mindful that I am, after all the clay,) not focused on our adequacy or inadequacy. 4) He has given believers in Christ an incomparable treasure that is meant to be shared! 5) His Word truly is active, alive and powerful. 6) People need hope and are literally drawn to the Light! (ex: Josephine and Chris.) 7) He writes the script. Case in point: That day, I had my day mapped out. He guided my steps to accomplish His Will.
The overarching point that I am trying to make is this: God is working all around and in and through us! He is drawing people to Himself. And He intends for us to be a part of sharing the treasure He is! Just think if every single person who professed faith in Christ, took sharing Him seriously, confident in His provision to do so?! Do you think this world would be different? I’m guessing Yes!
You don’t have to be super-spiritual or an extrovert to share Hope. He will take the offering of our efforts and multiply them more than we can ask or imagine. I do know this: the closer we get to God, the more we are willing to share Him with others and the more confident we are in doing so.
I don’t know what that time with Josephine and Chris did for them, but I hope and pray that when they lie down at night and reflect, or when they face challenges, or when they are given the opportunity to encourage someone else, they are reminded of what happened on that day near Christmas in Walmart and they will rejoice!