At a young age, I stumbled upon a book on Judaism that lit a spark inside of me. Little did I know that this spark would one day grow into a blazing fire that would light up my entire soul. But coming to Judaism was never going to be an easy task. I grew up in the heartland of Utah, in a strict Mormon community. Any talk of my love for Judaism struck fear in the hearts of my Mormon family and was promptly met with harsh rebuke and uncomfortable arguments.

Knowing I could never live with a religion I didn’t believe, I left Mormonism and my community as soon as I turned 18. I moved out of state and tried my best to start my own life. Even though Judaism was in the back of my mind, it would take several more years before I’d feel comfortable mentioning it or pursuing a conversion. It was hard enough for my parents to wrap their heads around my leaving their faith.

Despite many fights with my family about converting to Judaism, in 2004 I began actively reaching out to Orthodox rabbis to see where I could start. I made many phone calls, wrote letters and emails, but almost all went unanswered. I tried making in-person visits, yet every rabbi I spoke with seemed completely uninterested in getting involved, and all said no to my requests.

I was very shy at the time, so reaching out took a lot of courage and was outside my comfort zone. It was demoralizing to be rejected over and over, in addition to the heartbreak caused by the constant backlash from family and former friends, who all seemed convinced they were in a battle to “save my soul.” I sank into despair as I realized that the only true religion—the only thing I’d ever wanted in life—didn’t want me back.

It would be many, many years before I would learn that the rabbis weren’t rejecting me because they wanted to, but because according to Jewish law, they were obligated to discourage me before they could assist me with my journey. This ensures that a convert is sincere in their pursuit (and according to Judaism one need not be Jewish to have a share in the World to Come). Without knowing this, I decided to put my quest on hold. Those years felt dark and empty.

In early 2019, I found myself living back in Utah, after the passing of my grandparents and just before losing my father to his battle with cancer. It was a time of deep contemplation and soul-searching.

What was important to me? What were my values? Where did I see myself in the future? What is my purpose in this world? These questions consumed my daily thoughts, and I soon realized that I just wanted a connection to G‑d. I knew I wanted to build a relationship with G‑d based upon His teachings from the Torah, so at nearly 38 years old, I resolved that I couldn’t live one more year on this earth without being Jewish. I didn’t care if I lost all my friends or my entire family forever, or if I had to ask every single rabbi on earth. I wasn’t going to stop pursuing this! Not this time.

It’s one thing to make a decision like that, but far more complicated to do it in the middle of Utah. The closest Orthodox communities were two and five hours away respectively. Without anyone to speak to in person, I began learning as much as I possibly could on my own. I started writing emails and making phone calls, but I wasn’t successful in reaching anyone. The deep sorrow of not being able to start my journey began to feel unbearable.

One night, as I lay in bed, feelings of intense despair washed over me, and I began to sob. My prayers to G‑d soon turned into desperate pleas for help. With tears streaming down my face, I cried out: “Please G‑d, just give me hope that this is even possible.” Over and over, I repeated those words until eventually, I drifted to sleep.

The next morning, I noticed a message in my Instagram inbox from a talented artist named Tikva. As it turns out, she was a young, observant Jewish woman from Brooklyn, N.Y., who had just happened to reach out to me, seemingly very randomly, with a friendly hello. To this day, we’re still not sure what prompted the initial contact, but I soon came to tell her how I was trying to begin an Orthodox conversion. She cheerfully replied, “That’s great! Do you want to learn together?” I was overcome with joy at the possibility of having a real Jewish friend to whom I could actually ask questions!

This small act of kindness on Tikva’s part was a huge energy boost for my soul. I didn’t feel so alone on my journey; I felt like things were finally starting to progress. I was hopeful and felt strong enough for whatever lay ahead.

One day, as I was trying to learn some Hebrew words, I stumbled upon the Hebrew word, tikvah. I recognized the Hebrew letters from my friend’s signature on her paintings, and when I discovered that it meant hope, my heart skipped a beat. I was transported to the night not long before when I’d laid in bed begging G‑d to give me hope, and quite literally, He did!

I was overcome with absolute gratitude and sheer awe over this incredible answer to my prayers. In my lowest moment, G‑d was showing His kindness and mercy by sending me such a special person. Even more miraculous, however, is that Tikva’s instrumental role in G‑d’s plan for me wasn’t over yet.

As part of the conversion process, I knew I would need to move to an Orthodox community, but I was struggling to find the right one for me. During one of our learning sessions, Tikva asked, “Where was it that you were thinking of moving to?” When I told her my plans, she remembered that seven years earlier, she had gone to summer camp with a girl whose father was on the Beit Din (rabbinic court of law) in the city of my choice. Tikva kindly said she’d reach out to the family to explain my situation, and in less than 24 hours, I received a cheerful phone call from a rabbi willing to assist. After speaking with him and his wife, they both recommended a different city for me to move to, and I took them up on their suggestion.

Within a few short months, I found myself living in Chicago, surrounded by a loving community and great mentors. My Jewish education was flourishing, my connection to G‑d was strong, and I was able to successfully complete my conversion just before Passover of 2021.

The more I look back on the struggles and triumphs of my life, the more I see the hand of G‑d. Long before I had any clue I would embark on this journey, when the years were dark and empty, G‑d had a plan for me and began setting up the pieces for my success.

Even when you feel small, unseen, unloved or forgotten, please know that’s not the case. G‑d is always with you. He loves you and is making plans to help you live your best life. All we have to do is be open to His love, look for opportunities for growth and never, ever, give up hope.