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Running on Faith, Love, and Hope, Issue 30

Joe Welling, Assistant Principal
For Joe Welling, assistant principal and multi-sport running coach, he writes for Mullen Today’s Unordinary Times from the heart. With years of experience as a Lasallian Educator, he has broken down this difficult stretch of the coronavirus (COVID-19) into running on faith, love and hope. He also cites the resilience of the Mustangs community, its ability to continue to produce outstanding young people in the  midst of joy at Mullen and operating under the Grace of God. 
Running on Faith, Love, and Hope
For the past nine years or so, the back of the Mullen cross-country team shirt has displayed one of my favorite St. John Baptist de La Salle quotes: “You can do more with the Grace of God than you think.”
It’s a saying that can be applied to the challenges of running, but may be more reassuring now more than ever. Honestly, the experience of the last several weeks is difficult to articulate as a Mullen administrator, coach or human being, for that matter.
The third trimester has certainly evolved differently in the classrooms and on the track than any of us could have accurately anticipated. We’ve all been forced to adapt, reimagine and flex in many unplanned ways. It has been isolating, uncertain and uncomfortable. In fact, there’s a certain irony that Mullen was founded as an orphanage, a home, and now students must stay in their literal homes.
I sure hope all the parents rolled out a red carpet and played the drums on the first day of remote learning for their children. We’ve all experienced the ups and downs of the dissonance between where we are now versus where we thought we’d be now. I think, for me, the anchoring themes, and inherent challenges, of this experience have been faith, love, and hope. 
Remembering we are in the Holy Presence of God is a foundational pillar of Mullen High School and Lasallian education. It’s how we begin and end our days as a community. Now, we’re challenged to remember God’s Holy Presence and one another without seeing one another.
It’s a real challenge.
Whether seeing students standing in a classroom, huddled next to a starting line or tip-toeing through the hallway to try and sneak in late to class … I miss those tangible moments. I miss seeing the tangible “we” in God’s Holy Presence. I have always gotten my energy and spiritual lift from finding God in our students, in my colleagues and in those relationships. Stopping and talking to students in the hallway -- God was present. Sharing a laugh with a colleague -- God was present. Running miles with the track and cross-country competitors -- God was present.
It’s challenging enough to find God in ideal conditions and now we’re challenged by adverse ones.
Despite my deep longing to be back in school surrounded by God’s Holy Presence, I am adapting to spending more time finding God’s Presence in myself. I continue to run daily, as I hope the track and cross-country runners are doing. It’s certainly when I have the clarity and space to pray in a focused manner. I have been offering up my prayers for all of our students, colleagues and their families. I have to trust and have faith that those prayers are making a difference, despite frustrations of not being able to see them.
What has been made clear to me is that my faith and Mullen experience are rooted in love.
We can truly understand the depth of love by how badly it hurts when we feel removed from it. I’ve heard countless teachers say, “I miss my students.” I’ve heard students say, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d rather be in school.” And I know that I’m not alone in saying, “Everything is much more difficult when we’re apart.”
Those are all pointed expressions of love through the filter of frustration. There is an immense amount of love at Mullen. Sure, teachers love to teach, students (at times) love to learn, athletes love to compete, but what’s really become solidified is how much we love one another. I am now certain that I was taking for granted how much I loved the students, colleagues and people that make Mullen an incredible place.
I know my love for our community is strong because the pain of not seeing one another (outside of a Zoom room, of course) is intense. The word heartbreak has been used to describe the disruptions to classes, senior events, sports, activities and so on … it’s a fair description ascribed to the disruption in love found within our relationships.
We all deeply desire normalcy, but that desire is eclipsed by our desire to be together in our inclusive community.
Despite these very real disruptions to life and love, I have also seen incalculable hope.
St. John Baptist de La Salle, more than 300 years ago, implored his Brothers, the teachers, to always respond to the greatest needs of the students and school community. The way in which the Mullen faculty and staff have responded to the emerging needs of remote learning has been impressive.
Many times in this isolating and frustrating world of remote learning, I have had to look for hopeful moments. I have found many of them in working with the Lasallian Educators and staff we’re blessed to have at Mullen. Remote learning in a very real way removes the revitalizing aspects of our vocation: The in-person, relationship-driven connections in our classrooms, hallways, teams and groups. Take away the traditional sense of structure and relationships, and we have been left with an awkward curriculum, fragmented communication, delayed feedback, new frustrations, a blur of awkward Zoom calls, a deep need to serve all of the students well in a new format while at home, and, oh, all of it amidst a global pandemic.
The challenge has been immense real, and unprecedented. Yet, my hope has been reinvigorated -- despite these adverse educational dynamics -- by our teachers and staff charging forth into unchartered terrain with openness, flexibility, creativity, kindness, compassion, love, and a sense of humor in order to serve each one of our students in the best possible way and champion their successes. Time and time again, just as in our traditional buildings, our staff has done whatever needed to ensure the care of every single student.
The love for our students has not waned.
It fills me with hope, though I am not surprised that we have such incredible people at Mullen. I have certainly laughed far less in the past several weeks because I have not been around these teachers, staff, coaches and students that fill me with profound joy. Yet, the hope remains. Hope that the relationships that have been built remain. Hope that memories, lessons and experiences endure adversity. Hope that the educators and staff know they’re still providing the best care for our students, even if they can’t “see” it. Hope that the students know they are deeply missed and loved. Hope that the seniors know how much they have impacted their teachers, coaches, staff and fellow students as they have impacted me. Hope that the seniors also know we are so proud of them and know they will make the world a better place by living out what it means to “leave to serve.”
Hope that we will return together again, very soon, to experience the joy that is Lasallian Education and the joy that is Mullen High School.
And, ultimately, hope that we know we can do anything with the Grace of God.