Hope in Hunger

Sarah Cruz

Jane looks back on the past seven years and wonders how her trials will turn into a testimony someday. She’s ready for the turning point. Through Saddleback Church’s ministries--Celebrate Recovery, counseling, and the Food Pantry--Jane is beginning to pull herself out of despair and look to new hope.

Her husband, Steven, deployed to Iraq a month after their wedding. Upon his return, the young couple faced their first of many trials: Stephen’s mother’s house was about to foreclose. Steven put his mother’s debt on a credit card after she promised to sell the home and pay them back.

Events did not go as planned. Steven’s mother lost the house, leaving the newlyweds with $70,000 of credit card debt. “It was the worst decision we ever made,” Jane realizes. As her fears became reality, she struggled to trust God’s plan. Soon, Jane discovered that she was pregnant which shifted her focus away from finances.

The couple grew in their faith when they joined Saddleback Church in 2008 and traveled all the way from Orange to be a part of the Saddleback family. Together, with a few young families, they started a small group. When a Saddleback campus opened in Orange, Jane and Steven quickly joined, excited to get involved with their local area.

Their spiritual growth and financial circumstances seemed steady. Steven had a full-time job in addition to receiving a G.I. bill if he attended college. This would enable them to eliminate all debt in 18 months. Finally, they saw relief.

Soon Jane discovered that she was pregnant again. But hope shattered only a day later when Steven’s boss wrongfully terminated his position and refused to allow him to file unemployment. After 5 months of court battles, Stephen and Jane won the right to receive unemployment. In the meantime, Steven’s stress grew so heavy that he could not continue classes; this cancelled the much needed G.I. bill.

Steven grew depressed. He stopped filing for unemployment and left Jane solely responsible for care of the family. Life came to a sudden halt on March 7, 2013, when Steven locked himself in a bathroom with a gun and threatened to take his life. Terrified, traumatized and alone, Jane called the police in panic.

“An entire fleet of SWAT shut down our neighborhood. No one could come in or leave for hours.” The police escorted Steven to a hospital where he was kept for a week, diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

“I was 8 months pregnant with a toddler and acute morning sickness,” Jane recalls, “I had to ask God to help me just make it through the day.”

While things at home hardly improved in the last months that followed, the family’s lack of income and growing needs pressed Jane to approach the Saddleback Food Pantry for assistance. “My first experience was hard. I had trouble shaking the feeling that I shouldn’t be there; I shouldn’t be taking resources from other people who really needed it.” When Jane first stepped foot through the Food Pantry doors, the full waiting room reinforced her apprehension. She was still in the mindset that she was in the position of giving, not receiving. After an hour and a half wait she had to leave and come back the following day.

Again, the waiting room was full. Jane looked up to find Carrie Miranda, the Food Pantry manager, introducing herself and insisting to help her personally. Carrie brought Jane back to her office, processed her paperwork, and watched her infant while she shopped. Carrie’s loving heart overwhelmed Jane. “She was so, so sweet. I walked out of there thinking ‘wow what an amazing amount of compassion and grace,’” Jane admires.

Jane left with a peace she had not felt in months. She will always struggle with receiving help, but sometimes God requires us to humbly accept gifts from the church body. Because of those gifts, Jane’s family enjoys food they would not have been able to afford. The Food Pantry fills in the gap with items like scones that her two year old adores.

How timely that Rick and Kay Warren spoke last weekend about their journey. The message struck Jane poignantly, “I don’t believe it was just a coincidence that my husband attempted to kill himself in March, and the Warren’s son took his life in April,” Jane admits. Hope is a hard thing, yet, Jane believes in God’s purpose.

A verse that she remembers is Joel 2:25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” The last 7 years of her life have been eaten and destroyed. “Like Rick said in the sermon, I want to cling to the promise that God will restore the years of struggle. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever felt like I can cling to a promise.”

Jane’s story is not unique. The Saddleback Food Pantry serves the needs of more than 2,500 families, monthly. You can be a part of transforming the lives around you. Donate to our summer food drive and work to end hunger in Orange County.