Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Meeting Hannah

"Have you met Hannah yet?" the woman across the table asked. We were sitting in an overcrowded ballroom, eating lunch during the Proverbs 31 Ministries SheSpeaks conference. There were over 750 Christian women at this conference. I had met hundreds of incredible women throughout the past three days, like I could remember the names of each and every one.

"Oh, if you met her, you'd remember her," the woman explained. "There's just something about Hannah."

As if on cue, the most beautiful example of strength approached our table and asked if she could join us. This was Hannah. 

A tall, slender woman with chocolate skin, hair past her waist, and a smile that lit up the room. I immediately recognized her from the night before, when here, in this very ballroom, diners were transformed to worshippers, singing songs and praising Jesus. It was a Christian conference, after all. But I grew up in a reserved church. We bowed our heads in silent reverence for God. Here, arms were raised and hands were clapped. Bodies swayed while faces lifted to meet God's smile head-on. The night before, I watched in awe the woman in front of me, wearing what I termed a vintage dress, as she smiled and sang and called out to Jesus. I was absolutely fascinated with her. 

There was just something about her: a light, a strength, a courage that she proudly wore on the outside, for all to see.

This was Hannah.

I leaned in as Hannah spoke at our lunch table. In her exotic accent I learned she was from Botswana, Africa. She had saved money to come to this conference. From Botswana. She literally left her home, traveled something like eight thousand miles to come to a Christian women's conference in Concord, North Carolina. She spent four and a half days in one hotel attending this conference, where she planned to return home the minute it ended.

Who does that? Who spends a life savings traveling to a 4-day conference? Who leaves their family and their country to go to America with the hope to learn how to successfully grow their ministry? A soul on fire, that's who. 

This was Hannah.

Hannah is a business woman in her country. She has a grocery she runs out of her home. A few years ago, Hannah came across the Proverbs 31 Ministries website and started reading the daily devotions they posted. She started sharing these devotions with some women in her village. She wanted them to know the strength they could have in Jesus. She wanted her sisters to know they, too, were strong. 

Hannah saw an ad for the SheSpeaks conference on the website and thought that if she could just get to this thing she would be able to learn what she needed to in order to get her ministry to grow. She needed it to grow, she explained, because of the orphans.

In her village there were three siblings who had lost their parents. They lived in a tent. She knew they needed walls. She knew they needed a roof. But she also knew she couldn't do it alone. And she knew the couple of women from her village who came to her Bible studies in her home weren't enough. She needed to learn how to grow her ministry so there would be more women to help build the home for the three orphans. And the only place that would teach her to do it right would be the SheSpeaks conference.

And so she came.

It was now the last night of the conference and a line had formed to meet Lysa TerKeurst, President of Proverbs 31 Ministries. The line was long, the president tired. An assistant decided enough was enough and cut off the line. "I'm sorry," she apologized, "but we can't go all night." Hannah asked the assistant her name. "I have come too far," she politely explained, "to be turned away now." 

Waiting in line with her I asked Hannah what she would have done if the assistant wouldn't have allowed her in the line. "I would have known I did absolutely everything I could. God only asks that, the rest is up to Him."


Proverbs 31 Ministries President Lysa TerKeurst with Hannah


The next morning, packed bags sitting at my feet, I had one more chance to speak with Hannah. We spoke about how fabulous the conference was - the classes, the workshops, the speakers, the worship, the music, the food: it was undeniably incredible. And yet, I asked if there had been anything that had disappointed her. 

She looked out into the distance for a long time, thinking. I sensed she was gathering her words carefully. 

"I do not even know my roommate's name," she said, looking out at the sky. "She did not speak to me." 

What?! My heart broke. This was a Christian conference. Christians are supposed to be nice! How was it even possible to stay and sleep in the same room for four nights and not speak? I felt sick. 

I looked at Hannah, this amazing woman who lives in a village in South Africa, who only wants to teach others about Jesus, who dreams of building a house for three orphans, who took her money to fly to America to learn what she needed to learn. I was angry.

But she was not.

In her beautiful accent of strength and love and wisdom she explained:

"I spoke with God and asked, 'Why did you make me come all this way for this?' He answered, 'What do YOU need to learn?' So I thought on this. After much thinking I knew. There are 750 women here, I cannot let one person stand in my way. I have come too far to be distracted. I have come too far to give up. I have come too far. Now, I can go back to the women of my village and tell them, 'do not let any man stand in the way of where you are supposed to go.' I want them to go far."

Days later and I can't get Hannah or her words out of my head. "I have come too far..."

I think of every single woman at that conference and I want them to see how far they came. Do not give up now, I want to shout! You have come too far! I want them all to keep going in the direction God called them. I do not want them to give up.

Because isn't that the lesson in all of this? Isn't it all about answering your call, whatever that looks like? Whether you should be writing or speaking or painting or farming of mothering or cooking or singing or teaching or leading? 

The lesson is to do what you can and let go of what you cannot. The lesson is to not allow anyone or anything to stand in the way of your path. The hurdles and road bumps are not insurmountable, even when they look like they are. There is a way around. Do absolutely everything you can, and know the rest is up to God.

I think of what I would have done. Spent the weekend crying, being upset, wondering what was wrong with me. I would have been distracted in the workshops, unable to focus. I would have felt like a failure afraid someone didn't like me. I would have taken it as a sign that I was not meant to be there. I would have called a cab and ran home. I would have missed the lesson God put in front of me to learn and I would have turned away. 

But not Hannah. 

She had come too far. 

And she taught me that I, too, have come too far to turn around now. I look back over the roads I have taken in my life: awkwardness and insecurities, abusive relationships, unplanned pregnancies and single motherhood, toxic friendships, weakness, fear, financial disaster, hateful people, the death of my dear, sweet daughter and I HAVE COME TOO FAR. 

I have come too far to turn away now.