A Christian Life: Discernment, Vocations and Using Your Talents
(Full transcript of a talk I gave to High-School Sophomores)
Good morning! My name is Rachel Fogel and I am a sister, daughter, wife and a fine artist. I love music, especially loud classic rock and my favorite things to draw are people. I come from a family of seven kids (6 on earth and one in heaven) and two loving parents. I was home-schooled most of my life and I come here today because I have a little story to tell. This story is about following your dreams, using your talents and allowing God to lead you to a life more fulfilling than you could ever imagine. I will warn you now I’m definitely going to cry during this talk, but I hope through my tearful blubbering you’ll be able to hear something inspiring.
My story begins when I was twelve year old. I was helping my siblings prepare a huge pot of Mac & cheese for dinner one night when I heard a voice call, “Rachel!” It wasn’t a loud voice but it was said in such a way that I thought is Mom was calling from the upstairs. So I ran up the stairs into her office and asked “What is it, Mom? “ My mother who was working hard sorting piles of paper work on her desk looked up at me and replied “I didn’t call you, honey” Now confused and a little embarrassed, I told her “but I heard you call me.” I think my Mom realized that I had heard SOMETHING, and said “well, maybe it was God.” For the 12 year old me, that made a lot of sense but I was unsure why I had heard my name. So I asked “What do I do now?” My mom didn’t complicate things and simply encouraged “Ask what He wants and tell him ‘Here I am.’”
So I did.
I’ll never forget that voice and that moment of realization. God was calling me, a 12 year old kid who was helping make dinner in the kitchen. Ever since I heard that voice I knew I was called to something great I just didn’t know what that was. But I didn’t really worry about it because I was twelve and wasn’t really thinking about the future.
The reason I start with this story is because it was that moment where my relationship with God began. From that call I began to pray regularly on my own, taking on prayer requests and reciting rosaries with my siblings during chores. My prayers, even as a child, were me communicating with God. It was personal. This relationship continued to grow thanks to wonderful parents who also pray, my only sister who is example of saintliness and my own desire to know what God had planned for me. Much like Samuel in The bible, all it took was a simple response ‘Here I am’ to begin a life-long conversation between God and myself.
Skipping ahead, this relationship really blossomed into my high school years because I discovered the talents I knew I would use for the rest of my life. I was a gifted singer, a talented performer, and a devoted swimmer. I did a lot of theater, was even in a band and I had tons of schoolwork, which I struggled through since I had to motivate myself to do assignments. Don’t get me wrong I was a successful student, but my studies, theatrical performances or swimming weren’t my priority. My priority was art. Even before high school, I had an interest for drawing, painting and artwork that far outweighed any of the other activities I participated in. I don’t remember the first drawing I ever made but I drew A LOT as a kid. It became a habit and this habit of drawing only increased during high school. Pretty quickly, the time I spent on drawing overshadowed the amount of time I spent on school work. I spent hours every night after dinner sitting at my desk in my little bedroom and just put as many lines on the page as possible, forming people, stories or practicing the same pose over and over till I got it right. I loved every minute of it and because of that I knew I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to devote my life to creating work that inspires other people! It wasn’t even something I had to ask God about because I just knew it was what I was supposed to do. God had given me a talent and I was ready to use it.
Finally graduation day came. I had just finished 12 years of schooling and I was ready to be done with tests, papers, and all that extra work going into school studies. All I wanted to do was make art and now I had my whole life ahead of me. It was exciting! I will say that even after graduating and taking the SAT, I wasn’t really planning on going to college. In fact, I was strongly considering not going. Usually, this isn’t even considered an option, right? You’re going to college. That’s just the bottom line these days. However, my parents were a little different because they gave me the choice and I gave myself the choice as well. I know, it’s a little surprising but I felt more school would keep from putting all my time into being an artist. I also knew it was a great expense and I didn’t want to go into severe debt right out of highschool. Neither did my parents who didn’t make very much money at the time.
Despite all these factors, I felt this inner tug towards the decision to go to college. It was really conflicting because I had everything I needed right at home and this tug seemed to go against all rational decision making. It would be a huge risk on my part as an artist to devote time creating what other people told me to create, spend money that I didn’t have, and leave my family. With all that considered, it just didn’t seem like the logical choice.
Even though my mind already seemed to be made up about not going to college, I still took the time to ask God ‘what should I do?’ and before I knew it, I started seeing one specific name wherever I went: ST. VINCENT. I’d see these little ‘signs’ at church, in ads, and even over hear it in conversation. I was getting the message that I might need to continue my education, but it wasn’t really clear. It wasn’t like God spoke to me the way I heard my name when I was twelve. It wasn’t an audible “you must go to Saint Vincent College” it was a subtle and quiet presentation that left me in charge of the decision. That was stressful because I had to fight between my logical reasoning and that inexplicable pull in my heart.
So the final ‘sign’ was when my mother and I were taking trip out to Walmart for groceries. We are both really quiet I was staring out the window mulling over in my head the decision I had make. And this wasn’t even a decision that I could take my time with. It was already summer and if I was going to go to college I would have to apply very soon. Anyway, I was anxious and I just didn’t know what to do when my mother out of the blue says “I think we should go visit Saint Vincent.” It was like we were reading each other’s minds, and that moment affirmed for me that college was the way to go. I turned to her and said very honestly, “No, Mom. I’m not supposed to visit, I think I’m supposed to go to Saint Vincent.”So, we visited and I wasn’t particularly impressed or certain this was where I wanted to be, but I applied, was accepted and received large amounts of scholarships. It was amazing because once I made the decision to go everything simply fell into place. There were road bumps and lots of fear of the unknown. None the Less, I arrived that fall as a freshman.
When my parents dropped me off there were lots of hugs, but no tears. During that weekend I had an experience unlike anything Id ever felt. I was walking up the hill towards Saint Benedict Hall and the sun was just radiantly shining. There were a few picnic tables out in front of the dormitory and I sat down at one facing out toward campus. I could see the hills for miles, the entire campus, spires of the basilica and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It felt like I was basking in God’s warm embrace. I felt like he was giving me a hug as if to say “Hey! I’m so glad you made it!! I felt so at peace it was like my soul was empty and yet so full at the same time. My fear was gone! I called my Mom right away and she asked me how I was. And I told her “Mom, I’m right where I need to be.” And from moment forward, I knew being at Saint Vincent College was God’s desire and that I was going to be an artist.
My first year at school was simply regular. I had learn a lot and change a lot of habits, learn to make new friends again, and adapt to unfamiliar surroundings but I thrived in college. I discovered a love for learning that didn’t have in Highschool and I was happy to be taking so many serious art courses. I was Happier than I had ever been with but God was about to teach me a great Lesson. That I needed to Trust HIM always.
During Freshman year I was in a very serious relationship. It was long distance, and my boyfriend was in in Colorado while I was here. It was my first relationship and it put a lot of stress on me simply because he was so ready to marry me and I was just not sure. I loved him deeply but there just something holding me back from taking that leap into Marriage. I prayed about it every day, waiting for and answer, looking for answer. But I never heard what I wanted to hear. I never heard ‘he’s the one for you.’ In fact I didn’t hear anything, and that silence made me fearful. I feared I would hurt him, I feared we would break up, I feared we weren’t doing the will of God, but most of all I feared I would end up alone. There was a lot of uncertainty and I was also seeing a similar pattern like what I’d experienced when deciding whether or not to go to college. Instead of hearing and seeing ‘Saint Vincent’ I was surrounded by thoughts and images of religious life. God was silent on topic of marriage but when it came to sisterhood, I noticed it frequently popping up. I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to be a nun. This tore me apart because I wanted to do God’s will but I also loved my boyfriend and I wanted to be married one day. I told God many times ‘If this is what you want, I will do it. But Lord, I really don’t want to.’ The fear and worry never really went away, and I had to continually give my situation, my relationship with my boyfriend and my love to God. I had to trust that God knew what he was doing.
Over the Summer between Freshman and Sophomore I finally acknowledged my current boyfriend was not the man I was supposed to marry. I remember waking up early one morning and I just knew I had break up with him. I wasn’t afraid of hurting anyone, I knew what I had to do. I had been dating this guy for about a year and invested so much time into our relationship so it wasn’t easy at all. When I finally cut the cord I was hurt but I was also relieved. He was my first boyfriend I loved him, but there was just something off about our relationship. Looking back on it I knew in my heart we were not made for each other, no matter how many times we said ‘I love you’ I just knew it and I didn’t want to face it. I couldn’t see myself spending the rest of my life with him and I couldn’t see myself having children with him so I ended it. The rest of that summer was really emotional. I knew I had done the right thing but that didn’t take away the pain. However I had hope for a better future.
The following fall, I began my sophomore year. It was definitely the best year of my college career. Although I was dealing with a break up and instead considering religious life, I was surrounded by so many awesome friends who supported me through it. I don’t think I would have made through without them. We did everything together and for the first time I was taking care of myself, doing things that I liked to do and not worrying whether I would hurt someone. Being single was way better than I thought it would be! I threw myself into artwork and I also began to attend daily mass, pray the rosary, lector and spend a lot of my time talking to God. I had done this before but that year I made it daily habit. In all that time I spent in conversation with Him, it was if I was not only growing closer to God but also growing in knowledge of myself. I was finally getting to know the person you see before you. This made me confident in the person I was and the person I was learning to be. Being single really opened my heart to the plan God had for me and I was finally listening intently for his direction.
Well, His direction came in the form a lanky, pale, ginger name Michael. I hadn’t really noticed Michael very much, but I do remember running into him between classes and he would always ask me how my day was going. I was basically oblivious to the fact that he had noticed me and was looking to start a conversation. Even before we knew one another’s names, Michael put a lot of effort into showing his interest. He had figured out what my work schedule was at the campus restaurant where I was a cashier and he would always come over to get dinner during my shift. He didn’t know my name, I didn’t know his, and most of the time all that would transpire between us was a few sentences about our day. One night, he came for dinner I was having a terrible shift. I was stressed homework, deadlines, and having to work another really late shift. I just wanted to cry. He asked me how I was doing like he usually did and I looked at him and said, ‘I’m just not having a good night.’ Usually people just respond with,’ I hope it gets better’ or ‘your shift almost done, don’t worry’ but Michael asked instead ‘how can I make your night better?’ No one had ever asked me this before so I answered jokingly “a clean dining room would be nice!”it was my job to clean the tables after we closed and It was a very time consuming task so I didn’t expect him to do anything. I learned a great lesson in ‘ask and you shall receive’ because after we said our goodbyes Michael walked around to every single table and wiped the dirt and crumbs away just to make my night better. The next time I saw him, I introduced myself. This guy who had always asked me how I was and then went above and beyond to make my night better at least deserved to know my name.
From there we talked a little more. Michael figured out when I had painting class in the studios and would come visit me after every studio session. He even stayed late into the night to keep me company as I worked on assignments. I don’t want you forget that amidst all of this, I had a consistent focus on my artwork. Everything in my life at the time revolved around God and Art. Because of that I put a lot of time into my paintings and really learned to love oil painting that semester. Never once in my college career did my artwork take a back seat to my other studies, emotions or relationships.
Anyway, back to Michael. Since we spent so much time spent in the studio, we got to know each other more and I realized he was just a nice guy, he really, really liked me. But I was cautious and I didn’t want to jump into another relationship. I wanted to be sure it was what God wanted and I still had religious life on my mind. But there was a problem. I knew the reason Michael was spending time with me was because he hoped to eventually date me but I was discerning religious life. If I was totally honest with him about my discernment, that might mean he wouldn’t hang out with me anymore. I would lose a friend. On the other hand, if I didn’t tell him, I would never be able to live with myself because that wasn’t honest. Again, I was at another decision point and I knew I had to let him know that I was currently discerning religious life. I asked him to be clear about his intentions and he told he wanted to date me someday. I already knew this but I needed him to be clear if I was going be clear as well. After, I told him I wasn’t ready to be in another relationship and that I was considering giving my life to God. He was definitely disappointed but he only responded with an “O.K.” I thought this might be the last evening we’d spend together. There wasn’t any reason for him to stick around. It wasn’t like our future relationship was guaranteed. In that moment, I decided not to expect him to come around as much.
Much to my surprise, he never stopped coming around. My discernment didn’t change the way he treated our friendship and he even began to politely ask me out to dinner or go see a movie. I turned him down most of the time but we did go out a few times ‘unofficially.’ I was so confused by how persistent he was. I prayed a lot asking God ‘why would you put this guy in my life if you want me to be a nun? I dedicated more prayer time to this question and slowly our friendship grew into something greater. As I began to internally acknowledge my affection for him, A couple key things became the confirmation that I was supposed to date him.
The first one is my friend Sydney. She was a witness all the things Michael would do for me. She was the friend who when leaving the studio where Michael and I were studying would sing very loudly, “can you feel the love tonight.” She wanted us to be together and she wasn’t subtle about it. At one point, she privately took me into her dorm room and outright asked me, ‘Why aren’t you guys dating?’ I told her all the logical reasons why I had turned him down explaining my discernment of religious life, how I didn’t want to be hurt again, and how I didn’t want to hurt him either. She looked at me as if none of those reason mattered and told me the truth. “Rachel, I have never seen you light up the way you do when Michael is around. You love him! Why aren’t you doing something about it?” I knew she was right. Every time he was around I felt happy and the way he went out of his way to do kind things for me made me feel like gold. He treated me like I was something precious worth fighting for.
I prayed more and more about dating Michael, asking where God wanted me to go and decided to take a risk. I would ask Michael out and see if he was still willing to date me even after I turned him down so many times. I wasn’t sure about this decision and I even confided in my Mom, telling her my plan to ask him out. She said she didn’t agree with my decision but that she would support me in my choice. It didn’t really help that she didn’t agree and I second guessed myself right up until the day I planned to ask him out. I was in the chapel that day attending mass and I just poured my heart out to God. I explained all of my worries about starting a new relationship, how frustrated I was about being unsure of my decision. I was so scared. I needed some sort of confirmation that I was doing what he wanted and not seeking something selfish. The past few months I had been praying about becoming a sister and I didn’t want to let God down. As I was pouring myself out, there just so happened to be a book on the chair in front of me and all I could read was the phrase “pray, hope and don’t worry.” It was a clear message to me that I need to stop worrying and go do it!
I asked Michael out that night. He said yes and the peace I had felt when I sat in the sunshine my freshman year returned. Only this time the warmth came from the smiles we expresses. In the first few months of dating I realized God presenting the option of religious life was a tool he used to get me out of my previous relationship. And the conversations I had with him in that discernment brought me so close to him. I know now, it prepared me for a new relationship with Michael. I won’t claim that it was struggle free but things did, once again, fall into place. Within the following seasons Michael informally asked me to marry him twice but I told him I needed a ring. 8 months after starting to date, he had a ring and we were engaged. Third time’s the charm!
Over the next few years we planned out our wedding, I graduated with a bachelor’s in Fine Art, and launched my own portraiture business. We were married just last year on in October, at the place where our relationship had bloomed, Saint Vincent College. It was another perfectly sunny day. I did have pre wedding Jitters but when I reached the church and My Dad and I got ready to walk up the aisle there was no fear. Only the thought ‘this is what I was made for.’
But enough about my life, let’s talk about your life. How do all these events apply to you?
They offer three pieces of important advice for any high-school student.
1. Cultivate a relationship with God.
The best thing you can do to achieve your dream, whether that’s a career in science, art, history, cooking, or even being a parent, is to talk with God. Yes this means creating a habit of prayer where you talk with God regularly. However, when I say ‘talk’ I don’t mean absent mindedly reciting the Rosary. I mean intentionally conversing with him. Making it personal by telling him all about yourself. What you struggle with, what you’re happy about, how much pain you’re in, or how thankful you are what questions to do you have? And then once you’re done talking, listen. One of my favorite passages in the bible is about Elijah and he’s waiting on a mountain to see God pass by. And all these powerful natural disasters occur but God isn’t in any of these things. He’s in a soft blowing, a peaceful whisper. In order to talk with God you must be quiet and listen to that whisper which is usually drowned out by all the noise and busy-ness life holds. I know were all at different stages in our faith life and that’s ok, but this conversation, whether it is sparse or every day is the foundation which you can build your dream on. Talk, listen quietly and have a conversation.
2. Use your talents
Even before you were born, God had a plan. You have been given specific talents and skills to fulfill a purpose. I was given an aptitude for art and my creative personality fits into driven artist’s way of life. You have been given gifts or talents too. I’m sure many of you have a passion for something and you have skills that continue to be developed every day. I really want you to think about what kind of talents you have. Are you compassionate, understanding, wise? Are you skilled in mathematics? Or would you rather sing, dance, draw, or write. Are you interested in the natural world around you or are you a fan man made structure. Do you work well with your hands? Are you great with kids? Do you enjoy driving, welding, building? There are so many possibilities as to what your talents are and how you can use them. Later, write them down somewhere and don’t limit yourself to what the world considers a talent. Then begin to use them which brings me to my final word of advice.
3. Don’t be afraid
You’ve been given talents for a reason and you are just one decision away from beginning to live the vocation or dream that God has placed in your heart. Some of you already know what your vocations are. You already know what you’re called to be. But even those who know with all their heart will be discouraged. People will try to reason with you that pursuing your dream or using your talents is too expensive, it’s not what people do, that you won’t be successful, you won’t make enough money, or you’re too young. In that time, it might seem illogical but that is where you trust God. A lot of people will tell you you’re crazy especially if you choose to do something that is outside the norm. But were not called to something normal! Were called to greatness!! Don’t listen to those voices. You have a job to do and a vocation to live. Live it with courage, live it with joy!!
As a full-fledged artist, I don’t have much, but what I do have means everything to me. Working out of a corner of our small apartment, I learn important lessons through each painting or drawing I create. I don’t make very much money but that doesn’t really matter because I’m living my dream. I’m living my vocation through my marriage and my art and I’ve never been more joyful, free, or more at peace. People definitely think I’m crazy not to pursue a career with a guaranteed wage but I would never give up the happiness and fulfillment I experience for more money or worldly approval.
It took a lot of trust in God and constant conversation with him to figure out his purpose for me. Although the signs weren’t always clear, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Talk with God, use your talents and don’t be afraid.