Faith doesn’t make things easy; it makes things possible
And when the world is caving in,
Turn to me and soul within,
And know that through and through I’ll be,
By your side to help you see,
I’ll guide you through the tides of day,
And soothing words I’ll gently say,
No God am I, but God doth know,
The hardships you shall undergo,
And I, and I, will by your side,
Teach you to by Love abide,
Not by fear or travesty,
But by the Light in you and me.
April 30, 2005 (Age 17)
Regardless of how unwavering my Faith is, life is not easy. I struggle. I get angry and upset. I fail. I live in a world full of injustice, persecution, and imperfect humans (myself included). And yet, I know God. Faith is about moving forward, acting, and believing that good will prevail, even when there is no guarantee and no certainty. Faith is about looking beyond the evidence in front of us and allowing ourselves to feel beyond our human minds and consciousness. Faith opens doors to possibilities beyond our comprehension. It asks us to step out into the dark when we cannot see, to hear God in the silent void, to hope and know with our hearts rather than our minds. Sometimes it makes us look or feel crazy or irrational. And by earthly definitions, we may epitomize both craziness and irrationality. This is the essence of Faith and we are thus challenged to trust, love, remain compassionate, embrace vulnerability, and live courageously.
Right out of college, I was asked to start a mentoring program for high-risk high school students in our community. I had solid project management and organization skills and had previous success running programs, so I didn’t really think about how hard it might be. When I drove up to McCaskey high school that morning, I was ready to change the world, heart aflutter with possibility. But when I saw the faces of the thirteen high school freshmen waiting outside, I began to doubt that I was ready for anything at all. Who was I to think that I could take a group of vulnerable youth, match them with a group of college first-years and bus them all off into the wilderness for four days? Better question: what could I—a white, female, middle-class, Protestant, very recent college graduate—possibly say to this group of largely Hispanic, mostly low-income, and classified “at-risk” students about change? When I saw their hard and suspecting faces that morning, I was struck by how incredibly clichéd it all seemed. These were students that I knew nothing about; how could I, with no genuine experience or credentials, help them turn their lives around and realize their lasting potentials, uniting strength and ability to change? Years later, I look back and the answers seem so simple. Who was I? I was the beginning. What could I say? I could say, “I believe.” How could I help? I could love. How did we succeed? Unbridled and unwavering Faith.
The Project LAUNCH high schoolers, mentors, and facilitators changed the entire trajectory of my life and concretized my still presiding belief that Faith and love can move mountains. Every one of those students had experienced trauma in their lives, were attending a failing school, and had very few people rooting for them. People told me to give up. People told me not to get too invested. People told me it could never work, that these kids didn’t have a chance. People told me I didn’t know what I was doing and that I could do more harm than good. Their conclusions were completely rational, but I am so glad that I didn’t listen because four years later, every one of those freshmen graduated from a high school with less than a 50% four-year graduation rate. It was far from an easy journey—there were drugs and overdoses, suicide attempts, pregnancies, suspensions, rapes, and heart-wrenching middle-of-the-night phone calls—but our Faith, coupled with REALLY REALLY hard work on behalf of the students, made it possible. We created a world where light could prevail over darkness, where change was possible despite overwhelmingly negative odds. And as their proud “Mom,” I cried and cheered at the top of my lungs as each of them walked across the stage. I thank God for guiding me and for giving me a reason to push through when there was no rational reason to keep going.
In graduate school, I worked on the national suicide hotline for about two years. I have never had to trust in my Faith more. There are no sufficient words to describe the feelings one experiences when a person is in the midst of crisis and on the brink of taking their own life. Callers speak of helplessness, uselessness, loneliness, emotional pain, physical pain, suffering, anger, hopelessness, grief, and indescribable loss. By nature of the work, these feelings were the foundation of every call and it was therefore essential to see beyond the dark and swirling vortex and to pull out what science calls ambivalence and what I call Faith. As a crisis counselor, I sat with people in their darkest hours and truly listened, trusting that there was something this person was put on earth to do, that there was a reason for this person to live. I had to look beyond the evidence presented to me and believe there was no such thing as a lost cause. And I discovered again and again, that love has the power to transform. There was a man who called me while laying in the middle of train tracks, who asked me to convince him to get up before the next train was due to arrive…three minutes later. There was an older woman who had just lost her daughter and could not see a way to live on. There was an eleven-year-old girl who called after taking a full bottle of her mother’s prescription medication, already confused and fading out. There was a sixteen-year-old boy who called from the woods with a gun in his hands after his parents had kicked him out of the house for being gay. There were people with chronic illnesses, domestic abuse survivors, domestic abusers, alcoholics, addicts, adults, children, and grandparents. They were people whose faith had expired or was flickering out with every moment. I was charged with listening, empathizing, and ultimately guiding them to a new way of thinking.
No amount of training truly prepares you for this type of work and it was both terrifying and some of the most human and enlivening work I have ever done. My Faith carried me through and helped me navigate muddy and tumultuous waters to make alternatives possible. I never felt like I knew exactly what to say but I trusted in my gifts and generally felt like the minutes and hours I spent with callers were worth it. It was not easy, but my Faith made it possible. It makes all things possible. That’s how I keep going.