God has always been a vital part of my life, whether I realized it or not. Since my freshman year of high school, I've been blessed to be a vital part of the youth ministry core team at Christ Our Light parish in Loudonville.

I'm honored to have worked closely with an amazing group of teens and adults who are strong in their faith, as I am. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life so far.

We are more than just a group of people who organize events and fundraisers. Being a part of the core team can be hard work, but we have a ton of fun, as well.

We've shared the merger of St Francis De Sales and Our Lady of Mercy parishes to become Christ Our Light, as well as tears, laughs and memories - which have made us a family. Without this driving force in my life during high school, I don't know where I would be.

The hardest part of ending is starting over. Four years ago, when I joined the core team, graduation seemed far off; now, I'm walking into the next chapter of my life. Over the past year, I've found myself and others struggling with the mixed emotions that coincide with graduating from high school.

Looking back on high school, I wouldn't change a thing. I've become a true believer that everything happens for a reason, and I found God in all of it. Every decision I made had an outcome, and every outcome - whether positive or negative - helped shape me into the person God knew all along I was capable of becoming.

Love is just a word until you find someone who gives it the definition. In my case, this was not one specific person. The core team and people from other experiences related to faith sharing introduced me to the true definition of love.

My freshman year, I struggled with self-esteem issues, like many teenagers in today's society. (Youth minister) Sarah Raville, (faith formation associate) Elizabeth Schlesier-Flaska and the core team pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me realize the true effect I can have on people.

But that's what love is: people who recognize your true potential even when you're blind to it, and help you utilize it to the best of your abilities.

Two experiences that changed my life were the Christian Leadership Institute and Journey retreats. I attended CLI before my junior year, coinciding with my confirmation prep.

CLI is a four-day youth program of the Diocese, held at Pyramid Life Center in Paradox. Young Catholics attend workshops and small-group sessions. I learned to be more open with my faith and less timid to speak in front of people (especially about my faith), and to utilize my faith in incorporating my talents.

I attended a Journey retreat in senior year. From the minute you walk into the retreat, you feel an immeasurable amount of love, and that's felt long after the retreat experience is over.

Even the strongest forms of love face trials and tribulations. Around the same time as CLI, my mother was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. My first question was, "Why would God do this to my mother?" My mother faithfully went to church; she was a devoted mother and wife.

I struggled with my reaction for months. I bottled up my emotions, as I felt I had to be strong for her. I found myself pushing the people who mattered the most away in fear of becoming close to anyone else. I began to blame God for my helplessness. It ate me up inside that all I could do was watch my mother suffer. Medication and doctors weren't helping.

Now, almost two years later, I've seen my mother's illness in a new light. Sometimes you just have to let go and let God. God doesn't give you anything you can't handle and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. My relationship with my mother is much stronger.

The past couple weeks have also been an absolute roller coaster; but where there is struggle, there is God guiding you through. My mom was hospitalized, and we weren't sure if she would make it home for my 18th birthday.

One of the first people I called was Sarah. The parish was nothing but supportive. They visited my mother in the hospital, sent other people to visit her and gave me rides to see her. The support got my mother through. On my 18th birthday, she was able to come home.

That's the fantastic thing about being so involved with the Church: No matter how alone you feel or how bad things seem, if you have your Church family, nothing is impossible.

None of my experiences would have been possible without the youth ministry staff. Youth make up a generous portion of the youth ministry, but we also need a backbone. I thank them also for getting me involved in the faith formation program, which sparked my interest in education - which I'll be majoring in at college.

In Corinthians, it says all that was left was hope, faith and love, but the greatest of these was love. Thank you, members of Christ Our Light parish, for showing that the love of Christ will never burn out in my life.

(Joscelyn, a parishioner of Christ Our Light Church in Loudonville, will attend Russell Sage College in the fall to study childhood education with a concentration in psychology and a minor in Spanish.)