Hounds with Purpose is a space for alumni to share their stories of purpose and vocational engagement beyond their years at Assumption. This blog is created by the Center for Purpose and Vocation and the Career Development and Internship Center (CDIC) to better connect students and alumni through experiential storytelling.
Living a Life of Faith and Purpose
By Amber Kelley ‘17
I always had a way of overthinking things. Maybe that’s why I ended up studying philosophy. I always loved to think about the big questions in life and what it means, on a practical level, to lead a meaningful life. Sitting in Dr. Flynn’s (McGrath’s) Introduction to Philosophy class freshman year, I discovered thinkers and other students who asked questions and proposed answers that bewildered me; it was the kind of challenge I always wanted.
During the first three years at Assumption, I flip flopped quite a bit with the idea of what I would do after graduation. I looked around at my friends who were finding their passion and preparing for their respective careers. The questions in my mind started to pop up, “What am I doing at college if I have no plans?! Will I teach, will I study more, will I go to grad school?”
At the same time, activities outside of class filled my schedule: SEND trips, volunteering through the Reach Out Center, working for Residential Life and the Tutoring Center, Advocates for Life, Women’s Discernment Group; I was happily taking advantage of all the wonderful opportunities that Assumption offered. As the years at Assumption passed, I started planning and preparing for an academic career or a career in teaching – applying to graduate schools, searching for jobs and internships.
Here’s a photo of me while I studied abroad on Assumption’s Rome Campus
On the other hand, I wanted something else… The experiences I had on my SEND trips (and similar trips in high school led by Mr. Kane who is, naturally, an Assumption-grad), as well as a deepening relationship with God that captivated my heart lit a desire for something else that I couldn’t precisely put my finger on.
Was it religious life? I have visited religious communities, convents, participated in countless events with the women’s discernment group, and enjoyed all these experiences. At the same time, I knew it wasn’t exactly my place.
Was it a year of service after college that I was yearning for? This question was harder for me. I researched many ‘year of service’ programs, a bit obsessively to be honest. I was extremely attracted to the idea of being sent on a mission, to live in community with others, living simply, and spending day in and day out serving others. It was in this search that I heard a voice within me say, “I need to pay off my loans as quickly as possible…and then I can spend my life in service”. I didn’t understand what that “service” would be – marriage and family, religious life, missionary life? But the next step was clear.
When I graduated, I didn’t know where I would work – but for some reason, I knew in my heart that I had to move to Boston. I found a job as a resident assistant at an English Language School in Brighton, where I could live and work in the same place. I worked with international students, which was a great joy for me, leading cultural excursions for the students and taking care of their needs in the residence. Despite the predictable difficulties of living at your workplace, the experience was wonderful. I worked there for two years and at a bookstore in Harvard Square – the dream for a bookworm like me.
After a few years, I couldn’t take the late nights at both jobs – I was getting old! I was staying up all hours of the night taking care of boisterous teenagers at the residential school and staying until closing other nights at the bookstore – often missing my bus and getting home extremely late (when this happened, I would buy myself a donut at the Dunk’s by the bus stop to cheer myself up). One can only take so many disappointment donuts before realizing that one’s schedule is not exactly “healthy”. I decided to leave the bookstore and get a quote-unquote “normal” job.
With friends from the Assumptionist Center the day I entered the Shalom Catholic community.
To get this new, “normal” job, I did what any normal person would do. I went to Google. And I typed “jobs in Brighton”. And what was the first thing to pop up? “Augustinians of the Assumption – Seeking Secretary for Provincial”. I saw it as God’s providence and quickly applied. A few weeks later, I happily found myself sitting in a swivel chair (a relief from the 8-hour shifts on my feet at the bookstore) and reacquainting myself with the Assumptionists who had been so dear to me in my time on campus (shout out to Fr. Dennis!) and to others who quickly became family. This job taught me many skills – communication, fundraising, translation, organization, problem solving, attention to detail, and more. This chapter of my post -Assumption life flew by.
All along, there were the nagging questions in my mind: What’s my purpose? Am I living my purpose? Once I pay off my loans, what’s next? I was enjoying my life in Boston, sharing an apartment with friends, and living up the joys of city life (the sights, the sounds, the bubble tea…). The question of vocation came to the forefront of my mind again after going on a retreat of the Shalom Catholic Community, a community of the Catholic charismatic renewal, called a Life in the Spirit Seminar. While I always felt close to God and tried to have a life of prayer, I felt like I experienced who Jesus is for the first time. And I realized how much he is in love with me, despite all my limitations, sins, and unfaithfulness. How much he is in love with all of us.
It was a new beginning in my life. And long story short, Jesus invited me to follow him, leaving everything behind to be a missionary, to go where he goes, on the roads of the whole, to encounter those who are far from him and who have never experienced his love.
Remember that I’m an overthinker? I heard this voice, clear as day, clearer than the voice that said to pay off my loans fast, clearer than the voice that said to move to Boston. The one thing that remained was my response. I could go, I could write the letter to enter the Shalom community as a missionary, to be sent anywhere in the world, leaving everything behind. I hesitated.
There is an episode of “The Chosen” – a series about the disciples of Jesus – that touched me a lot during this time. In one episode, Jesus has just called Thomas (remember, the doubter?) to follow him. To leave all behind. Thomas has just seen a miracle that has changed everything for him. Thomas stands next to his friend, his anguish apparent. The overthinking begins…leaving everything behind? Who will take care of the business? My family? Will I even see them again? What about my friends? What’s going to happen if I follow this guy, what will happen to me, will I be safe? Will I be happy? All these questions were mine too. And I took his friend’s response as mine too:
“Thomas, maybe, for once in your life, stop thinking.”
That’s what I did. It was no longer my calculating mind taking the lead, it was God taking the lead in me, and me believing that he’s worthy of my trust – that his will is my happiness. I wrote the letter that brought me to where I am today – living in a house full of missionaries in Fortaleza, Brazil, in a community that, God willing, I will be a part of for the rest of my life – a community dedicated to evangelizing those who have never experienced God’s love.
Since writing that letter, I have been on a path full of surprises, and – of course – challenges, but also full of overwhelming joy. I’ve learned that following Jesus in the way that he wants, even when he asks you to go an extra 4000 miles, is the secret to happiness. I’ve learned that love – the gift of oneself to God and others (which looks different in the life of each one of us) – is the way to true peace. I’ve learned that vocation is not a burden, not a puzzle, but a gift to be received. And I’ve learned that life is simpler than I always made it out to be – and more beautiful. Far more beautiful.