“As I reflected on the Given Forum 2019, the word ‘receptive’ had been planted on my heart. I had uncertainty about whether I was magnifying my gifts in my current life as a high school history teacher and coach at an all-girls Catholic school outside of Washington D.C. I loved the school, my students, and my coworkers, but I still felt a sense of restlessness in the silence. I was ready and receptive–with arms stretched out– to use my gifts to glorify God and to follow wherever He was leading me.

…then 2020 happened.

By the end of March, my open-minded, receptive discernment fell by the wayside as I felt the world spinning around me. I was suddenly navigating the challenges of teaching students virtually at a time of severe stress and uncertainty. I had spent months planning a wedding, only to find out that we would have to downsize to ten people. My fiancé accepted a graduate school offer in a new city, which meant I had to begin looking for jobs at a time of extreme hiring freezes. While I thought I was ready to respond to a new vocational call, this type of change felt out of my league. I felt emotionally and spiritually paralyzed.

None of us could have envisioned what 2020 would look like for us. I harkened back to a piece of wisdom that Sr. Mary Gabriel, SV shared with us at the 2019 Given Forum opening talk: “To be brave means to be ready to sustain a wound.” For many of us, being receptive to God’s call this year can mean being willing to sustain many ‘wounds,’ both large and small. Yet suffering bears fruit, just like a seed must break open before new life springs forth. 

There is no denying that the wounds of this year have been great. From the national fight for racial justice, to a global pandemic, to the civil unrest as we near a contentious election, our nation is suffering. On a personal level, I felt a severe sense of grief as I closed one phase of life without what I felt was the proper ‘goodbye.’ No graduations for my students, no goodbye hugs to friends, and no ‘last Mass’ at my wonderful parish. As my job search intensified, I found myself knocking on many closed doors. In one fell swoop, all of the jobs I had applied for were put ‘on pause’ until further notice. We re-planned our wedding, changed vendors, and, ultimately, decided to move it closer to home so that our immediate families wouldn’t have to travel. As I was living in this cycle of frustration, and found myself closing off from any semblance of ‘receptivity,’ I got a call one day in early April offering me a principal job in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Not only was this job not on my radar, the thought of leading a school in urban Philadelphia in the middle of a global pandemic seemed more than daunting; it seemed terrifying. I felt vulnerable, yet in my quiet moments of prayer, it was becoming clearer that my gifts might be well-suited for this role at this moment. I knew that while responding ‘yes’ would be the brave thing to do, it would also lead to many moments of trial. I would have to navigate challenges of enrollment, finances, and facility maintenance, combined with the meticulous planning needed to open the school safely and prudently.

This type of vulnerability necessitates trust. It is one thing to say that at the heart of our femininity as Catholic women is being receptive to God’s invitation to use our gifts. However, what can be harder to do is to have the courage to trust God’s plan for us in a season of life that we may feel safer retreating inward. As we seek to find our unique ways of animating the Church with our gifts, being brave and saying ‘yes’ to a call might mean a few bruises along the way, but ultimately as St. Francis de Sales writes, “the devotion which is true hinders nothing, but on the contrary it perfects everything.” A true vocation rooted in God’s love will be fruitful–if only we are receptive to it.

Kelly Griffith Bell, GIVEN ’19

Kelly Griffith Bell is a principal at St. Laurentius School, a Catholic K-8 school in Philadelphia, PA. Before teaching at an all-girls Catholic high school in the DC area, she taught on the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville, TX through the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program at the University of Notre Dame. She enjoys going running with her husband, cardmaking, and coaching field hockey and lacrosse.