I don’t think I appreciated fear or the concept behind the admonishment to “Be not afraid” until this year. This has been a year of watching a person I love go through a trauma that has shaken our entire family. It’s been a year of wondering how I would react in her shoes, of battling “what if,” of changing priorities and internal compasses (ones I didn’t know needed changed).

Have you ever faced your worst fear? I haven’t, not really. I used to think that burying a child must be the worst thing a parent could ever have to cope with. Then I thought it must be the premature loss of a spouse. After this year, I don’t know.

During a long conversation on a dark porch, one of the people I admire more than almost anyone else told me that she has seen the good that has come from one of the hardest challenges she’s ever faced, burying two of her babies. I should have been shocked: it seems so counterintuitive that good can come from that kind of tragedy. But, the thing is, I’ve seen the good too, even if only in the corner of my soul that has become softer and more open to life.

It’s this experience that has her, through the anguish of losing her husband unexpectedly earlier this year, convinced that God loves her, certain that He’s holding her, persuaded that He’s running the show. As she faces what she calls her personal hell, I can’t help but shake my head at her rock solid faith.

She pulls her car to the side of the road to cry. She hides the sharp pangs during family gatherings. She puts on a brave face for her children, her mother, her siblings, her friends. She notices the absence, the empty space, the changes that wouldn’t have been necessary if he were alive. Underneath it all is a grief so deep that I think only Mary really knows it. Only Mother Mary can comfort her, really. With each new pain comes the memory of the old; with the passage of time and the slow healing it brings comes a new wound of guilt over forgetting, over moving on, over living.

On that dark porch, huddled in sweatshirts and talking theology and heaven, I was once more humbled by this woman beside me. Given her suffering, who was I to encourage her? Given her year, who was I to offer her anything other than love? Given her grief, who was I to laugh or correct or do more than pray?

From her example and unwavering faith, I’ve had a firsthand glimpse of the truths of our lives as Catholics. Our lives on earth are not complete or fulfilled, and they never will be. We will suffer mightily. Through it all, though, God loves us. He never stops. He never gives in. He never hesitates.

God loves me.

Facing that worst fear, whatever it is, doesn’t seem so bad when I have a mentor who is going through a personal hell and is sharing the walk with me. Her brave forging forward makes me think of the saints, of Mary, of the great women of the Bible. That worst fear of mine, seems, indeed, to be a bit of a smokescreen, a ploy to scare me away from living as I should, a distraction from the importance of the life of tangible faith.

I don’t need to battle my worst fear. I just need to hold on to His hand and jump into His arms as needed.