Expectations: Where do I Fit?

A few weeks after Ben and I arrived on our first campus we packed up our kids, who were ages 2 and 1 at the time, and headed to our Fall Conference. As we pulled up to the campground, Ben was whisked off to the opening meeting while I stumbled around with my flashlight trying to turn the heat on in our freezing cabin and get the pack n’ plays set up.

The next morning, he had a meeting before breakfast and then had to jet off to help with a workshop. As the kids and I wandered a little aimlessly around the grounds watching the students and other staff, I realized with a mixture of relief and despair that no one expected anything from me.

I felt relief, because I had my hands full with our young kids.

And another feeling nagged at me. I felt left out.

Out of a desire to honor the fact that I had kids and not wanting to overburden me, my team hadn’t asked me to contribute in any way.

With a servant’s heart, my husband had volunteered to cover several areas for our regional team so I could be responsibility free (but also husband free!).

With sincere hearts, students avoided me at meals because I hadn’t initiated with them and I looked pretty busy with my highchairs, bibs, sippy cups, and tupperware containers of snacks.

With good intentions, older women recounted the days when they weren’t even invited to come to conferences and so I felt guilty for experiencing the pangs of bitterness at being slighted in such a small way in comparison.

And in the haze of moving to a new city and joining a new staff team – I realized I hadn’t raised my hand very high when opportunities to serve at the conference had been discussed. More accurately, I hadn’t been at the discussions when the opportunities to serve at the conference had been discussed! I’d been at home unpacking, watching Dora the Explorer!

Feelings of relief, disappointment, feeling honored, but also left out, confusion over my role and capacity have characterized my experience as a woman on staff. I’ve cherished the autonomy and freedom I’ve had to chart my own course regarding my contribution. But, I’ve also found myself feeling adrift fairly often.

As I look back here are some questions or struggles I encountered:

Because I had 2 and then 3 little people in front of me clamoring for my every moment, I struggled to think strategically about my time and contribution. I didn’t think at all about what I hoped to do when I was 40 and more available for ministry! Well, now I’m over 40 and wish I’d been more intentional about seeking growth in a few areas.

I wasn’t always sure why I had such limited kid-free time. Wasn’t I just as called to this ministry? Why weren’t the kids in daycare so I could work 40 hours a week alongside Ben? My heart knew why, but I struggled to express these very complex realities!

I struggled with comparison since women inside of The Navigators are all over the spectrum in terms of contribution – some doing a lot less than me – and some doing a lot more.

I struggled with the spiritual authority students gave me because I knew I wasn’t putting in the same amount of hours on campus or in study that my husband was.

I struggled to describe myself – I considered myself a stay-at-home mom, but I also felt “employed” by The Navigators. I called myself a volunteer but carried the responsibilities and workload of a staff member.

I often had no idea how much I was actually working and consistently underestimated and undervalued my work. Once a friend asked me how many hours/week I worked and I told her “You know, during nap times and stuff.” Later, when I thought about it more, I realized I was actually working nearly 20 hours a week which is much more than just “during nap times and stuff.”

I really struggled to communicate my availability and what I could offer our staff team and students primarily because I didn’t have clarity within my own spirit. While I struggled internally to figure out my role, students and younger staff sometimes felt confused.

Was I available? What was my role? Was my role to help Ben with his responsibilities or did I have unique and separate responsibilities? Did I want to contribute on campus or in our region or was I too busy with the kids? Did I have any larger aspirations for work inside the organization that might require training? Was I the wife of the campus director or the co-campus director? Was Ben training the women staff or was I training the women staff?

These are all questions I often didn’t have answers to.

Do any of these struggles resonate with you?

I don’t have all the answers, obviously, but here are 4 ideas I wish I’d implemented years earlier that have alleviated some of these areas of struggle.

1) Create a Job Description

Ben and I spend a lot of time over the summer discussing the upcoming year. We talk over needs, changes in our staff team, and areas we want to emphasize in ministry. We also have long talks about the upcoming year for the kids.
Then in early August, we try to nail down a rough job description for me. It includes my campus commitments, such as the number of women (and sometimes who) I’ll be discipling, initiatives I want to help with, conferences I will try and attend or not attend, Bible studies I will participate in or lead, and any administrative or communication responsibilities that I will oversee. It also includes family and community responsibilities like coaching or volunteering at the school or at church. I don’t turn this job description into anyone necessarily, but it serves as an assessment tool as we head into fall with our staff team and family.

2) Communicate Regionally and Nationally
It’s helped me to talk over these rough ideas with my regional director and his wife, or friends in the Collegiate office like Deb Proctor. It’s so helpful talking about my current contribution with people who are development-minded. They are gifted at seeing areas where I need more input as well as skill sets and trends in contribution that could be of use organizationally. They have often alerted me to conferences, webinars, and trainings that have helped me feel connected to and loved by the organization.

Every Women’s Regional Liaison (WRL) has a brand new coaching tool that she would LOVE to go through with you to help guide your thinking in this area. I encourage you to get in touch with her or Cheri Chi (chigles@gmail.com) with questions.

3) Communicate Locally

It is extremely helpful for my staff team to know at the start of the year where I plan to contribute. Ben and I are the staff trainers on our campus so it’s especially important for me to communicate clearly to the young women on our campus who they should look to for each area of their development. It’s also good for the students to know what my primary contributions will be so they can know what to expect. I have learned the hard way that not communicating well at the start of the school year can lead to confusion and disappointment among students and staff.

4) Keep a Resume
The first time we had an Edger on our campus I felt so insecure. I couldn’t remember what in the world I had been doing for the previous decade. I didn’t have a list of the things I’d studied, books I’d read, or tools and talks I’d prepared. It was hard for me to articulate what I knew and I’m sure it was a little concerning to this new staff person looking to me for training and development. But once I took the time to create something like this for myself, I was amazed to discover that I had done a lot of learning and developing in my years with young kids.

There are still times when I wonder if I’ve made the right choices, but I feel confident knowing I have prayerfully made those choices. Recently, while so many of you were at the National Conference and I was at home with our kids, now 15, 14, and 12, I felt peace. I was free from insecurity and I didn’t fall into the comparison trap, thanks in large part to having made that decision a while ago and having communicated the decision locally and regionally.

What is one thing from this list you can do this week to help you clarify your role for yourself and those you minister to in 2018? What would help you feel greater peace and confidence? If you feel stuck, reach out! It’s would be our privilege to connect you with someone who can help you take any steps forward in these areas!

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