I had a moment with God. A moment embraced by His love and comfort that hit me quite unexpectedly. In the past, an encounter like this would have triggered me, I would have resisted it. But when this moment of love overcame me, I trust-fell into it. It was a moment I’d been seeking for quite some time, but had never fully encountered. Moments of inspiration usually hit me when I feel uplifted during a Jewish ritual, or as an avid hiker, when I’m surrounded by nature.
I first discovered my love for hiking as an adult, searching for an escape from the harshness of life. I started traveling solo to get away from the expectations and pressures of the Hasidic community I was raised in. I needed breathing space from the chaos at home or the overwhelming feelings inside of me that no one in my world taught me to process or understand.
From a young age, I knew I was different. I grew up in a very religious Hasidic community with friends who dreamed about getting married early and starting families. My dreams involved a career, independence and a desire to explore the world. I grappled with my inner needs and the rules I was taught to live by. In the slice of the Hasidic world that I grew up in, mental health and emotional intelligence were unheard of. And so I grew up alone, with no one to guide me or hold me through the complexity of my emotions and adolescence.
I buried those unfelt feelings deep inside, carrying years of confusion and hurt on my young shoulders. I was living a life by rote, doing what I was told to do, without really wanting to do it. Then, it got even worse. In my mid-twenties, after falling into a deep depression and landing in the psych ward, I found myself with no options but to walk away from God and Judaism.
But out in nature, I felt alive and wholesome! I was free to explore the world, breathe and feel the fresh air, nature and magnificent views. My hiking trips almost always involve mountains to climb with rewarding views at the peak. I first discovered my love for nature as a young adult living at home with my family. When my feelings would overwhelm me or I needed an escape from the house, I would run away and sit by the water near my house. I’d take my journal, jot down my thoughts and emotions or just sit and wait for the dust to settle.
Later, I started traveling and discovered solace on hiking paths in nature. As I’d hike along, trekking through rough terrain, skinning my knees and stubbing my toes, I’d always keep the view at the peak in my mind to keep me motivated. As my legs would start to ache and I’d grow short of breath, I would sometimes be rewarded early, in the form of a clearing, with a sneak peak of what was ahead. When that would happen, I would pause, take in the scene and marvel at the wonders of Hashem. As I’d stop to catch my breath, I’d inhale the feeling of accomplishment, memorize the sight to memory and relish in the joy of the world. These snapshots were gifts along the climb that kept me going, helping me reach the summit. These were the moments where I’d come face to face with God and say thank you for the beauty of life.
While I was at peace with the God of nature, I still struggled with the Jewish God I had been raised with. I used to view Hashem as a God of reward and punishment — you get rewarded (but not always) and if you misbehave and you get punished with hell. I was told horrifying stories of women getting their skin scalded because of the way they dressed or engaged in excess beautification. After continuous years of soul searching and finding help through Makom, a branch of Jew in the City, I encountered Hashem in a different scenario that reminded me that despite the hardships in life, I always have a place to call home, somewhere to go, someone Who I can rely on. In my relearning, I discovered a God that is there for me in the depths of my pain, waiting to hold me and love me through it all. This is a new God for me, one I had never met before or knew existed.
Like any healing journey though, there are ups and downs and I was recently met with a new test. When the pandemic hit, I started re-experiencing my trauma in a different way. All of a sudden, I was alone more than ever and the mentors that were always there for me became less available due to more responsibilities and stress at home. As a result, I started to feel some of those inner demons rise up and had to confront a lot of pain that had been dormant. At the time, the pain felt insurmountable. On the recommendation of Makom’s in-house psychologist, I began to learn about Good Mother Messages and healing my inner child through self-parenting. Though I had been in therapy for a decade, I began making profound breakthroughs in my healing journey, finding inner children who needed to be held and loved.
But then, in my bed one night at home, I began sobbing, shaking uncontrollably. Sharp pain was searing through my heart as the memories overloaded my body. Then, completely unexpectedly, I felt surrounded by warmth and love. I found myself wrapped in God’s embrace. I was immediately shocked, surprised and filled with wonder and curiosity. I was perplexed and confused and thought, “How did I get here?” God’s arms have never been a place I sought out, let alone found comfort and solace in, but there I was.
Finding comfort in Hashem’s arms when I was in such a deep low was the biggest shock of the situation. After I left home, I started hiking, noticing how great I felt out in nature. I often feel Hashem’s presence when I’m uplifted in that space. Even though the terrain may be challenging, and I might stub my toe or skin my knee, I’ll peek out into a clearing and see the unbelievable view ahead. That moment always inspires me to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.
This moment was like that clearing for me. In the middle of a real challenge, I felt love, hope and acceptance. Like an unbelievable view as you’re walking up a mountain, it was a moment that’s hard to describe and one that’s never as beautiful when photographed. For me, it’s a moment that I will keep with me and turn back to when I need it most as reassurance of what’s possible. This was a gift from God, He gave me a glimmer of the life I am heading towards. I have come so far and know at the end of the day, God is always here for me. I am always welcomed, wanted and loved.