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The texter was suicidal, thinking about taking the pills or using the gun. It was my role on the text hotline to get them from this crisis state to a place of cool calm. It would be easy to panic in this situation, but my training as a crisis counselor and the support of a mental health professional just a few keystrokes away helped me keep my composure. It was more than that, though, that led me to take a deep breath and try to establish a rapport with the texter, to inquire more about why they were in this situation and to help keep them safe that day.

That volunteer experience of mine took place several years ago, but it has stuck with me.

I was raised to believe that everyone is loved equally by God and thus equally valuable as a human being. In my role as a volunteer crisis counselor, nearly everyone I encountered had lost sight of their own value. I know the feeling. I, too, have been uncertain of the value of my life. More than a decade ago, I asked my father to help me kill myself. I wrote goodbye notes specifying who should be at my funeral and put my head under the water in the bathtub.

Once my father found one such note in my desk. When he asked me if I planned to need it in the future, I hesitated. “No,” he said vehemently. The note, so painstakingly written, was ripped up for the trash. In the depths of my depression, I often felt like that note: My life, so painstakingly crafted, felt torn up and discarded by someone I loved or by society at large.

In those moments, I held on to the notion that I was created by God for a purpose I couldn’t understand. That sense of mystery was crucial to keeping me going, pushing forward, raising my head above the water, helping me to hold on to some scrap of my value, even if I couldn’t feel it. If I had relied on what I thought I knew in these moments, I would be dead. But I always held onto life, to the rational and seemingly irrational thought that God must have a plan, even if all my own plans seemed utterly destroyed and impossible. That is what God is for, making the impossible possible, raising from the dead, forgiving all sins.

When I was a crisis counselor, I tried to convey some sense of this hope, to infuse those seeking help with the notion they are valuable. As Catholics, we sometimes talk about being the face of God to other people or about encountering God in others. Indeed, God’s presence is in everyone. So each time I sat down on the sofa for the two-hour shifts I served with the hotline, I not only brought all of my crisis skills to bear but also called upon a seeing God, asking God to help me to see the holiness in everyone I spoke with, no matter how distressed or in despair. And I tried to offer acceptance, unconditionally, no matter what had led to their crisis, just as I know God would.

But over time I came to realize how difficult it was for me to offer this same loving perspective to my own life. I was at times ashamed of my depression, of mania, of mental illness, of so many things that had shaped me but also had ripped the fabric I had so carefully sewn into a life. I once thought that my main challenge was that I didn’t share these struggles with others, but I now see that this hesitance was just a symptom of my inability to accept these struggles as my own, as part of my fabric. I wanted a chance to work with new fabric, not to repair the fabric that had gone with me on so many journeys. But in doing so I failed to realize the ways in which these experiences also made all the rest of my fabric more vivid, more beautiful, more unique.

I have learned to be O.K. with the tears and the repairs. Years later, I have grown in my ability to see everything that has happened as part of a path taking me somewhere unknown to me but that God has designed for me. It is this same belief that kept me alive in the darkest times, but now it survives in the middling times when I want to give up trying to change, trying to evolve, trying to thrive.

I have learned to be O.K. with the tears and the repairs.

What drew me to volunteering for the crisis line in the first place was the hope that my pain might be of some use, might enable me to connect with those who were hurting. I noticed that when I told others that I served on the crisis hotline, people seem to admire one half of the relationship: the counselors. Rarely did they express admiration for those in crisis who are brave enough to seek out help and share their own pain, for those who reach out for a lifeline when they could drown themselves.

Why do we admire the lifeline rather than the ones who seek it, the ones who save themselves, the ones who recognize, even if at the last second, their own value? As Catholics, we are encouraged to seek God when we are lost, and, in a way, those texting the mental health hotline could be seen as doing something similar. They are seeking something bigger than themselves, a perspective beyond their intense moment of panic or despair.

In my most desperate moments, I, too, became a texter, asking not to be alone. Which version of me is more loved by the Lord? The one receiving the texts or the one sending them? The answer is neither. The Gospel of John says: “This is my commandment. Love one another just as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). Through loving those on the crisis hotline, I planted the seeds that helped me to eventually love myself.

Galatians 6:2 reminds us to “carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Yet there is much to be valued in making it possible for someone else to carry our burdens, by making our pain and need known to others. By letting others in, we enable them to do the work of God. We can enact the holiness of asking for help. Through being the face of God to others, perhaps we can finally accept that God’s love is for us, too. Perhaps we can then put down the burden of our shame, taking away its power, replacing it with a sense of faith and the knowledge of our power as part of a community in individuals, all of us loved wholly by God.

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