Today’s blog is written by Gail Struve, member of Holy Cross Church Council – enjoy!
“This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine”… a song I remember singing since I was
four years old or younger. I was taught to look towards the light from an early age. As
far as I was concerned, I knew nothing other than living in God’s light. I was blessed to
know that I was a part of God’s family and I never doubted that (that doesn’t mean to
say my faith never wavered). My family raised me in the Lutheran faith, in which I was
baptized as a baby, had my first communion, was confirmed and supported by
numerous summer bible camps, and went on to attend a Lutheran college.
Of course, darkness was always there, but I didn’t know darkness in a way that would
ever shake me to the core. I didn’t grow up in poverty, in a split household or face
serious illnesses or tragedy in my home. Darkness for me was more of a dull backdrop
to my life, occasionally showing up as fear, self-doubt or a desire for something better
than what I had in front of me. Darkness only took over when I let it.
When I was young, I thought that “something better” meant success, being the best at
something, or having the best of something. I searched for light in those places of
success, beauty, and friends…that if I had those things I would be in the light. At the
same time, I searched for a deeper connection with God, finding his love in connection
with other Christians. Attending a Lutheran College in Iowa, I found a place of wonder
and curiosity with my studies in Music Therapy and Music Education. My curiosity and
passion for how others in this world think and how that affects their life led me to an
internship at the Oregon State Hospital, working with severely mentally ill patients and
seeing the impact of music in their life, shedding a light in their world of darkness.
Still I searched for light in my own world, yearning for more. Needless to say I met my
husband Bryan, bringing more light and love to my life. He walked along side of me
while the dull darkness of self-doubt lingered in my search for the next stages of my
career and working life. For a few years, as I switched gears from a music career and
started working for the State of Oregon Department of Human Services, I built up my
skills in working with Oregonians experiencing poverty. I began my journey of walking
with those in the dark, only to realize that when someone is experiencing poverty that
person is the one walking in the light that I needed to see. I remember thinking when I
was pregnant with my 1st son 17 years ago, that I was looking forward to being a
parent, so I could shed some of my selfishness, and I remember a similar transition on a
deeper level as I worked in the Self-Sufficiency office, learning to be so incredibly
grateful for everything that I had in my life every day.
As I continued to work for the Department of Human Services as an eligibility worker for
Food Stamp (now called SNAP) benefits, medicaid, child care assistance and Cash
Assistance (TANF or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), I began to realize I was
on a path of light for God. I’m not sure where or how I first thought about it, but I started
to feel like God was saying “serve my people”. It felt good to continue a legacy of care
for others that my mother taught me and her mother taught her. I also felt extremely
blessed to be doing God’s work and getting paid for it. A few years into my work as an
eligibility worker, I was blessed again to be working with families who were receiving
TANF and seeking a life out of poverty as a Family Coach. My role had changed from
determining eligibility on the front end with different families every day, to working with
families that I met with monthly, building relationships with these families and walking
with them in their journeys to better lives. The message for me changed from “serve my
people” to “walk with my people”. This is where I truly started to see light in darkness,
where the smallest amount of light could completely take over the shadows, giving hope
to the families and joy to me.
You see, when I learned to walk in the dark with others and walked a long side them
instead of wanting to be the best at something, I heard the message of “lead my
people”. I joined the Self-Sufficiency Training Unit a year ago, and I continue my own
journey in the light. I have the opportunity to learn every day as I teach others again.
I encourage all of you to look at your own journey in the light and darkness that our God
has given us. For me, I have lived a very blessed life, never really lacking for anything I
needed, but I was given the gift of true light by walking in the darkness with others. I
was baptized by God’s grace, not my own works or my own understanding. One of the
catch phrases I hear at my work and repeat to my students is “they are the experts in
their own lives”, which means that people who experience poverty are their own best
resource for what works and what doesn’t work. It is not the eligibility worker, the
Family Coach, the friend, or the neighbor who knows best. Everyone has their own
experiences, and their own God or light to lead them. So instead of judging others and
giving advice, let’s walk a long side of each other, in the dark, with our flashlights at the ready – In Christ’s light – Gail Struve.