When I was a child, my parents took two different approaches to their Catholic faith. My dad rarely went to church and sometimes poked fun at people who asked God to help them make decisions. My mom attended daily Mass and turned to God regularly in prayer. Watching my parents, I didn’t know what to believe about God, but there was something I did feel confident about. My parents agreed on one thing, and it was very clear: as long as you were financially secure, everything would be okay.
A Wrench in My Plans. Sticking with Mom and Dad’s advice, I decided to go to pharmacy school instead of beauty school because it promised a comfortable salary. I was very faithful to my career and became one of the top pharmacists in my area. After sixteen years, I got an even more prestigious job as a pharmacy inspector for the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy. My parents couldn’t have been prouder, and even though I was forty years old, their opinion still meant the world to me.
My career was flourishing at this time, but my personal life was not. I was not going to church every Sunday, nor was I seeking God and his direction. I was a single mom, and I had been divorced not once but twice. I found myself slipping into depression. Even though I was financially secure, everything was not okay. Then, in 2013, four years after I had begun working as a pharmacy inspector, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The fear and sadness that came over me was inexpressible. My depression took a turn for the worse. I had no idea if I would live or die, and no amount of money could change that. Out of desperation, I called out to God and asked if he was real and still performed miracles. If so, could he show me who he was? As sincere as that prayer was, I was still surprised at how quickly he answered.
Surrounded by God. Even though I wasn’t attending church regularly, the director of religious education called unexpectedly and invited me to teach a kindergarten class. I didn’t want to say yes because I was used to staying out late on Saturday nights, but for some reason, I agreed to do it. One of our lessons was about the Rosary. I ended up learning how to pray it along with the children, and then I started doing it every day. Slowly, I noticed the presence of God as I connected the mysteries of the Rosary with my own life.
God also showed me that he was real in another way that left me speechless. My cancer diagnosis meant I needed a mastectomy, and it terrified me. After surgery, I thought I was going to die. It was all in my head, but the feeling was real and scary. During this time, though, a friend of my mom’s stopped by my house. She said, “The Lord told me to share a Bible verse with you: ‘Do not fear. You shall not die’” (Judges 6:23). The feeling of hope that I had was indescribable. I experienced reassurance from God through this woman, and after surgery, treatment, and five years of monitoring, I am cancer free.
I started to see God in every area of my life. I took a class for divorced Catholics that helped me heal and forgive. I heard God’s voice through the Mass, daily Scripture readings, and Christian radio. I met and married a good man who opened my ears even more to the voice of the Holy Spirit. This helped me grow in my relationship with God, and I began to share about it daily on Facebook to bring hope to others. Through all of this, God was setting the stage for me to put my trust in him even more deeply.
New Desire, New Career. Pharmacy work had given me a growing compassion for people addicted to drugs. In the spring of 2016, another pharmacist and I gave a drug awareness program at a high school. We told the students that 25 percent of their peers would abuse or misuse a prescription medication by the time of their graduation. I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to ask the students if any of them knew someone who had already done this. More than half of the 250 freshmen there raised their hands. Afterward many of them wanted to ask us about getting help for themselves, their friends, or their parents.
We were overwhelmed by their honesty—and by how big the problem really was. I wanted to travel and give presentations at more schools. There was just one problem: my employer said that I couldn’t as long as I worked for them. I had to make a decision, and I was torn. I knew that my finances would suffer greatly if I decided to leave my career.
In January 2017 I began to fast and pray about what to do. Then, one day in February, as I was reading the daily Mass readings, a verse jumped out at me: “Do not rely on your wealth” (Sirach 5:1). Through this and other signs I received over several months, I felt sure that God was leading me to take a leap of faith. So on August 1, I gave my notice at the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy. I had already filed for nonprofit status and named the program Project Daris after a talented young man I knew who had died of a heroin overdose.
Following God Today. I knew I had to call my parents to break the news to them. Unsurprisingly, they were worried about my future. But I told my Dad, “God’s work is in front of me today; I can’t wait twenty years to do it.” Two weeks later, I became the first employee at Project Daris.
Our first year was challenging, but it forced my husband and me to trust in God. I would not trade for a million dollars the spiritual strength that I have gained from this decision. Today, Project Daris has helped more than ten thousand students in Kentucky pledge to help end drug addiction. Their letters have helped me to persevere.
I have learned that no amount of money can make everything okay. Only Jesus can do that. Even though I no longer bring home a big paycheck, I’m not depressed or desperate; I’m confident that God is real, and he is leading us. Letting him guide me is the only way I want to live. There are still some days when I don’t know if I’m following God correctly. But on those days, I pray these words of Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. . . . But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you. . . . I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Shannon Kennedy Garrett lives in Kentucky. You can visit ProjectDaris.com to learn more. Do you have a story of how God has worked in your life? Send it to [email protected]