Published October 28, 2020 at 11:24am
Interview and photos by Mary Martin.
As the new Executive Director of Faith and Grief Ministries, Liz Harling is bringing her passion for deep connection, education, and advocacy to a role that has taken on even more in a year full of loss. By bringing their support groups into the digital space, Faith and Grief has created a path for those who have lost a loved one to find community, even in the midst of a pandemic. We asked Liz about her experience in the nonprofit community and where she is finding moments of inspiration as we head into the holiday season.
As a long-time Dallas resident, what has your journey in volunteering and nonprofit looked like?
I’ve been driven in these 20 years by my faith, my role as a parent, and my experience as a lawyer in navigating complex systems for others. I am a teacher and navigator at heart, teaching adults in Sunday School, ESL classes, parenting classes and citizenship classes. I love to see adults find resources and acquire the skills they need to take the next steps in life. I see the teacher’s role as “walking alongside” in discovery and at Faith & Grief we walk alongside those who have lost a loved one.
How did you initially connect with the work of Faith & Grief Ministries?
Through teachers, of course! One teacher I worked closely with at Literacy Achieves was the past board chair and another current board member is also teacher at Literacy Achieves. When I heard about the opening for an executive director, I started researching and found many people I knew were involved. It felt like a homecoming. Also, as a family we have just been through some of the experiences addressed by Faith & Grief in the loss of my father-in-law, the last of our parents to pass away. We just sold his house in Louisiana the week before I started with Faith & Grief. And many years of sharing the story of my sister-in-law (who died from complications of juvenile diabetes over 30 years ago) has confirmed the power of “stories that speak truth and promote wholeness” – one of the values of Faith & Grief.
The past seven months have been filled with a wide spectrum of grief and loss on a global scale. How is your team addressing not only the specific loss of a family member, but also losses of jobs, social connections, safety, and health?
Our pivot to virtual gatherings and zoom workshops, the addition of a podcast, a bookclub and an increase in online resources has helped us reach a wider grieving community and address people where they are in whatever layers of loss they are experiencing. Our upcoming 5th Annual Memorial Arch in Klyde Warren Park is directly addressed to the grief of a community over the pandemic and its many losses. We are specifically inviting healthcare professionals to join us for an opportunity to reflect on the losses they have experienced during this time and place a ribbon on the arch to represent the Covid deaths in Dallas County. The arch will be in the park from the opening ceremony on November 29th at 2pm until the 20th of December.
Has your experience as an attorney informed the way you lead in this space? What can you share about that process?
I haven’t practiced in many years, but there are things that I bring to leadership roles that come from that experience. An attorney is an advocate, helping someone navigate a system that is unfamiliar. In nonprofit we are always advocating. I also think the speaking and writing skills come in to play, as well as thoroughness and the ability to look ahead for possible road blocks and design alternate routes if needed.
Was there a dynamic of volunteering and community service throughout your childhood? What about now that you have a family of your own?
My parents weren’t overt in teaching about volunteering but they had an attitude of respect for others and great integrity. I didn’t find out about many things they did until letters came in after they passed away. We were expected to do the right thing, do well in school, and do our share of any work. Pretty simple. With our kids, they got brought along to canned food sorting and one day service events from a young age, but I don’t know that its anything we did. They both bring a deep sense of justice and fairness to the table along with a significant work ethic. They teach me. As far as respecting others, they were raised to say yes sir, no ma’am though!
What are some truths that are grounding you as we all approach the holiday season in a strange kind of year? Who are you looking to for inspiration?
Its true that our “family” is bigger than the 5 at the table at a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. It is my new work family. It is our church and community and many friends. My husband has been undergoing treatment for cancer and the “cloud of witnesses” that is praying us through this is simply amazing. It is true that we need to spend quiet, contemplative time away from screens and news and discord in order to be recharged for the work ahead of us. I always think, at this time of year, of the illustration of golf balls, beans and sand in a jar. If you start by putting the sand and beans in – the little busy stuff – then you get to a point where you can’t fit the golfballs in. If you start with the golfballs – the big, spiritual things – then the beans and sand all fit in down around them. We need that recharge right now. We can’t be asking “why” in this pandemic. That doesn’t get us anywhere. We need to be asking “what do we need to do”?
For inspiration, I look to our founders at Faith & Grief and see how far they’ve brought this idea in the last ten years and how many people have been comforted and found hope. I’m inspired by our supporters who came out in force on North Texas Giving Day (my second week on the job) and showed us they knew this was an important time for our services to be more widely available to the community. I’m also inspired by many things I read which recently includes the 13th century theologian/mystic, Julian of Norwich, with her teachings about peace of the soul, that “all will be well.” And I am inspired by the artwork of Makoto Fujimura and what he has to say about the necessity of accepting brokenness in order to move toward hope and joy.
How can people connect with the Faith & Grief team if they are looking for help, or would like to get involved as a volunteer?
We hope that they will visit our website, faithandgrief.org, and see the opportunities there like our bookclub, our podcast, and information about gatherings and workshops to come in the winter. We especially invite people to come down to Klyde Warren Park between November 29th and December 20 to the 5th Annual Memorial Arch. It is is a meaningful place to remember your loved ones during the holiday season by tying a ribbon in their name on the Arch. In this extraordinary year of loss and grief, we are recognizing the tireless efforts of our helping professionals with special recognition at our opening ceremony, Sunday, November 29th at 2 p.m. We also need volunteers in two hour shifts each day to assist visitors. Learn more on the website.