How do you find God in greed, hurt and pain? When people go without and have nothing? When people mistreat the system that is built to help them? In mental illness? In a community that is either ill-informed or ignoring a housing crisis?
This is the bittersweet struggle I go through at HELP of Ojai. HELP is a non-profit in the Ojai Valley that works to meet the basic needs of the homeless, low-income and seniors. It’s easy for me to talk about and pray for my family and friends, my community and the AVs, and what’s going on in the world. How do I begin to pray for all the struggles that people have right in front of me? After the initial response of, “HELP is good”, I find myself struggling to elaborate. Many people don’t want to hear about the struggles of the mentally ill, the homeless and housing problem in Ojai, and how irritating is to sit on hold for 45 minutes with medi-CAL to be told they can’t help you in under two minutes. It’s also probably not appropriate to describe your service site as a “hot mess express” and yourself as the conductor of the train. Or the reality that you are running after the train because the same client has come in at 11:55 when we close for lunch at 12:00. I find myself frustrated, tired, and my head swimming with what if, what about, and what the hell.
I wonder if there is hope for my clients. I try to understand that keeping an appointment can be a miracle, remembering paperwork is sometimes an act of God, and goals are a foreign concept. I need to remember to explain why we set goals and to keep the goals achievable. I can’t get on my high horse and try to remember the refocusing techniques we went over during our morning staff meeting. The first goal I suggest is finding one AA meeting, a second is updating a resume, and a third of following up on paperwork to get an ID so you might be able to find a job if your sobriety is going well. By the way, when was the last time you had a drink?
I often leave work wondering where my day went and go over the list of things we are doing as a community that night. My head typically spins, and I consider canceling all our friendships. Just kidding, that would be awful! What would be better is if we use our grocery money to order takeout every night so we don’t have to worry about cooking. Speaking of dinner, was I supposed to go to the grocery store tonight? Can time stop for ten minutes for me to process my day?
Compassion; that’s where I find God. Compassion in my heart for a life I can only begin to understand and for choices I never had to make. Understanding; that’s where I find God. Not a complete understanding, but a small glimpse of how living with a mental illness can be life controlling and disconnecting. An understanding of the importance of listening and the equal importance of feeling like you are being heard. Community; that’s where I find God. When I see anonymous donors make a difference in the life of someone, as angel wings hide underneath their jacket. In the homeless community as they protect their most vulnerable from harm by looking after them in the shelter and on the streets. Joy; that’s where I find God. When someone is able to find housing, a utility grant drops, or health insurance is obtained. In remembrance; that’s where I find God. When people talk about the recently housed homeless man that died and how much they miss him and his spirit. How we should all try a little harder to embody him.
Questioning hope and having to find ways to seek God in hard situations has made it easier for me to see the blessings around me. I am able to enjoy God more in bike rides, on hikes, the view at yoga, in conversations with others, in my AV community, Sundays at mass, and in the quiet of my heart when I find peace with my mistakes. So how do I begin? I start as Mother Teresa said to, one by one.
Ventura, CA 2015-2016