Once a week, I venture into a rundown neighborhood – past a few bars and a few beggars – to a modest house where I spend a few hours behind locked doors…
Afraid? Don’t be. This is a safe house; a women’s facility nestled into the bones of an older home, in an even older neighborhood where the residents have weathered some rough personal storms. A large sign in the front yard identifies the house to passersby with the appropriate name: ‘Hope.’
Affectionately referred to as a hospital by most of the clients, ‘Hope’ doesn’t feel like a sterile facility with comfortably decorated waiting rooms that never really put anyone at ease. This re-purposed house feels like home. Former bedrooms are offices and counseling rooms. The family room is now a resource room, stocked with donated clothing, diapers, and toiletries. The large den holds classroom tables and white boards. And the kitchen? Well, where do guests flock when they come to your house? Yeah, same here. Always full of women, the tiny kitchen is a busy hub of chatter, laughter, and commiserating. Coffee is usually brewing and fresh vegetables – grown in the garden out back by the women in the gardening class – are rinsed and drying, ready to be chopped and enjoyed in a new recipe. And if there is a birthday, you know someone brought cupcakes.
The talk reflects a lifestyle different from that of suburbia. Instead of carpool drama, someone shares about her supervised visit with her children. Another proudly announces how many days she has been clean. There is no gripe about school teachers, college applications, or children barely missing the honor roll. No one complains about the husband who leaves his socks on the floor. Any woman in a relationship – married or otherwise – is simply glad her man is home, because sometimes he leaves without warning.
When Jesus said Satan steals, kills, and destroys, He was serious. These women understand exactly what Jesus was saying. Nearly 100% of the clients at ‘Hope’ have experienced past abuse or are coping with it now. Most of the time, abuse came from the mouth or the hands of someone who was supposed to love them. Abuse has stolen their dignity, killed their dreams, and destroyed their confidence. A tragic pattern formed early, and the victimized child grew into a victimized adult. A bleak narrative repeats in her head, relentlessly reminding her she is worthless, she will never beat addiction, or she will never be loved, smart, whole…fill in the blank. She’s spent a lifetime believing the voices and probably just as long fighting to shut them up.
I answer phones, register women for classes, and open the front door that always remains locked – an essential security feature for the center and for the clients. (But I have no question most of the women could handle any menacing visitor.) For now, I’m also teaching a class about nutrition and fitness with a more spiritual, less physical spin. Far more streetsmart than I, these women know a lot of stuff I don’t know, like what time of night the repo folks come to snag your car and exactly how many days you can skip a payment before the lights cut off, but the gals are sweet for allowing me to teach them and even sweeter for listening to me yammer on. We don’t discuss the pros and cons of eating organic, because food programs don’t offer organic. No one is considering hiring a personal trainer – who needs one when your life is a workout? Most of the clients walk everywhere they need to go and their bonus workout is dragging laundry to the Laundromat in wheeled coolers a few times a week.
I doubt these precious ladies have learned much from me, but I’m learning a lot from them. They are genuine and vulnerable, without apology. I admire their tenacity and their honesty. After spending years believing they had no choices, one day they had hope enough to believe that maybe they did. Within their limitations, they made a choice to hope, to change, to step out for healing, and it opened up their world. The adversity and chaos of their home life is no longer strong enough to keep them from striving for more. Someone introduced them to Jesus and His unconditional love; a love so different from the selfish love they knew before – the kind given and withheld at another’s whim. They have a Savior and a Defender who is rewriting their internal narrative of despair with a narrative of promise. He restores them and reminds them they have purpose, worth, and reason to hope.
Whether the opinions of the past, the shouts of the present, or the whispers of the future, everyone has an inner narrative. It tells you who you are, what you aren’t, and where that puts you in the stack. When I choose a narrative other than my Savior’s, I become painfully aware of my lacking and my hurts. I have to choose His voice over the others. I have to allow Him to speak to my heart. And then I have to listen.
Tomorrow, I’ll hang with my peeps outside of suburbia and continue to get an education I never expected. They have stories and backgrounds different from mine, but we share a Heavenly Father. And because of His grace, we have hopes for the same wonderful future.