What I Would Tell My First-Term Self
The emcee asks the panel during one of my favorite meetings, "What would you tell your first-term self?" I love listening to everyone's answers...this advice to self that my friends, colleagues, and coworkers would tell themselves when they first arrived and set out at the beginning of their overseas journey and work. This is such a tender question and we each share with vulnerability and the new, fresh missionaries that have just landed within a few months or even weeks get to hear their seasoned leaders talk about their struggles and what they needed to hear their first few years on the field.
Our answers are different, yet we all can understand and identify with each other.
So...what would I tell my first-term self?
36 days before I landed in India for my first term, I found out I was pregnant. I was shocked, and this was not what we planned. I felt like I started that term spinning a little--more things to figure out on top of learning a culture and learning a language.
And, then...during my first term, I was pregnant or nursing every single day of that 3-year term. Yes, we did choose to go ahead and another baby...it was our choice. Nonetheless, that term was FULL and overwhelming. And we had a few other precious itty, bitty kiddos!
We had some great expectations and goals set for us first-termers to ensure we would learn the language and get immersed in the culture, and learn how to share the Good News! They really were good things, and the spirit of the assignments, language hours, and tasks is the help you thrive in the long-term. I am so thankful for the hard work of our leaders, mentors, and shepherds during that time.
I am an overachiever, a 3 on the enneagram. I like to do everything you ask of me and a little more! I want to do a good job, and I want to please others. Yet, here I was, week after week, not able to get enough language hours, not checking off all of my tasks, tired, and I felt like a horrible wife and a horrible mom on top of not getting all my "missionary work" done.
The truth is, I was still excelling in language. I was learning the culture. Our family was doing pretty well. We were healthy and thriving...and for a new family on the field, we were doing great. But the narrative in my head often didn't see those positive things. My narrative was, "I am not good enough." "I am a failure." "I cannot do this." "We are going to get fired."
I could not have labeled it that at the time, nor did I, but as I reflect years and years later, and the first time I was asked, "What would I tell my first-term self?" I knew the answer so quickly..."I would tell myself, that I am good enough."
For 3 years, I struggled with the deep core belief, "I am not good enough." I could not have labeled it back then, but I did know enough that I was struggling. I talked with my supervisors often about this, and I also fought for my identity in Christ. I remember a season during that first term when I would ask the Lord EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. and even multiple times a day... "What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to spend my time today?" And I would say that is enough, and it took faith to believe it because deep down because of who I am and part of my story, I just didn't think it was enough. Deep down, I was battling hard with this core belief that I thought and believed I wasn't good enough.
I am SO very thankful for my husband, coworkers, and supervisors that walked with me through those days. I am so thankful I worked through identity. I am so thankful that years later, when I still struggle with that question, I am much quicker to say, "By the grace of God, and because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I am good enough."
The truth is...that narrative got me for more than my first term. I spent almost 8 years struggling with the fear of man, and the core question of feeling not good enough. I wish so badly that wasn't true. And, I long to tell other first-termers to fight it and work through it much, much sooner. And then rest in the identity of a redeemed child of God in Christ! Rest in that identity and live in it and work by it!
Here is the sweet thing...my first term was SO very hard! I could not do it all, and I could not rely on my strong, achieving self. I was not good enough in some senses. I learned a sweet dependence on the Lord in that season that I would not trade for anything.
For one of the first times in my life, I wasn't able to do what was asked of me. I couldn't hit a home run...and most days not even a base hit. Honestly, I felt like I was striking out every single time I got up to bat. But, I was part of a winning team. Don't go alone!!!
I learned some humility in that first term. I learned to put opportunities aside and let others take them. I learned to be okay with not being the best...yet, I knew in my heart I was trying my best. Especially in those months when I daily went to the Lord, I learned a sweet dependence that is special.
And, I learned lessons that continue to help me when I feel like I'm not good enough. This is a question so many of us are battling with, and it can only be answered in our identity in Christ. And, learning to find our identity in Christ is worth the work, and it is priceless.
I pray that no matter if you are in your first term or your 10th term that you are rooted and grounded in your identity in Christ and in Him you will know and be confident you are good enough...by grace, you are good enough!