Sunrise at Indian Island. File photo: Peter Blasl

I was sitting at the front of my eighth-grade class when I noticed a poster on the wall. It was a picture of the sun rising on the water with this scripture written across it: “Let your light shine before all that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.

The poster helped to calm my anxiety about beginning my last year of middle school. It also touched my mind and heart in a deeper way. I felt like it was a personal message to me from God — heaven-sent through the miracle of my public school education and an inspiring English teacher.
That year proved to be a year of tremendous growth as a person and as a student. Though he never spoke directly of his faith, my eighth-grade teacher exemplified godly attitudes in his teaching and in his life. It was a great year of preparation for the transition to high school.

My faith was always important to me, but as I grew into the teenage years it became more important and more challenging to live. That simple scripture from the gospel of Matthew always came to mind because it had made an impression in my heart. I saw it as a call for my life.

A few years later, while I was in high school, I started attending prayer meetings with my dad. I discovered that my eighth-grade teacher was a leader in the prayer group too. When I saw him there and heard him praying, his kind speech and actions made even more sense. His relationship with God shined forth from him in school and out.

In this prayer group, I learned to recognize the voice of God speaking in my life. I suppose it was a lot for a teenager to take in, but I didn’t care. I had found a home away from home and a place that nurtured my faith.

Years later, I attended a Catholic college that also provided me with the academic and spiritual foundation to grow as a whole person. Throughout those years of high school and college, I had many moving experiences of God.

But they all brought me back to that first message from God hanging on the wall of my 8th-grade class.

“Let your light shine.”

For a short while, I thought I might be a traveling missionary or even a nun. But the call to marriage and family life set me on a beautiful course closer to home.

After my youngest was born, sharing my faith included hospitals and doctors’ appointments too. I share my faith as an advocate and caregiver too, realizing that the greatest witnesses are the ones we live day to day in the quiet of our homes. Caring for others definitely counts as shining God’s light in the world.

With the internet and in particular social media we all have a greater opportunity to let the light shine into many dark places. We can shed light on injustices and help to bring about a change in many environments. We can share stories of hope and healing that bring strength to others.

We can be an encouragement to others who are struggling with fear or discouragement.

We can be kind — or not. But in choosing kindness, we choose to be the light that can inspire others to do the same.

One morning this week, the Lord spoke to my heart the moment I opened my eyes. I imagine He knows that it’s the best time to talk before I get distracted. These words came to mind: “Tell Johanna that she is a light to the world and help her to see how.”

Since Jo and I have a “no conversations before coffee” rule — it’s totally her rule because I am more of a morning person than she — I added the Lord’s request to my mental to-do list. At daily Mass, God reminded me of the message again when the gospel that was proclaimed was about placing your light on a lamp stand for all to see.

When I came home, I told Jo that the Lord wanted her to know that she is a light to the world. Johanna nodded her head and responded, “Good to know.” Then I asked Jo if she knew how she shines God’s light to the world. I watched Jo’s brain processing these thoughts as she responded: “my art…my singing.” After a while, Jo’s voice trailed off as she struggled to come up with ways she is a light in the world.

I affirmed those gifts in Jo and reminded her of more ways she is a light — perseverance, endurance and joy topped them all.

It’s not easy doing normal life with disabilities, especially when it involves cognitive decline that makes it hard to communicate with the world around us.

But to me, there is an inherent beauty — a light — which emanates from people with disabilities. Their need for assistance calls to the rest of the world to pause and offer help. When we respond in kindness, light grows.

Every person — no matter what their abilities — can be a light shining in the darkness in simple and profound ways. Caring for the needs of others and encouraging kindness shines God’s light and makes the world a brighter place.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen