More than Just a +1

I was so nervous to have this conversation. Our field leader was popping over for tea and to map out our first year back in Ireland after home assignment. My husband had a clear vision for what his role would entail and I was in a slight panic.

It’s not that I didn’t know what my role would be. It was that I was about to surprise even myself.

Ten years ago, when we first joined our organization and excitedly planned out the entirety of our overseas career, I was full-speed ahead. I was a young mother, yet still envisioned a “parallel role” for myself, where my husband Matt had his ministry and I had mine. Maybe our work would coincide, but more likely they would diverge and complement.

Our organization firmly supported the wife’s decision to choose her role in ministry. Though my husband was the “primary employee,” they appointed us as a married couple, embraced both of us as ministry workers, and our churches commissioned us both to full-time service.

We were “all in,” together.

This worked pretty well for approximately 6 months in country. In the throes of culture learning, we were treated and acted as equals. But with two little ones now in tow, pursuing a ministry role outside of the home was unsurprisingly difficult. Then, less than a month before I was to start working with a ministry I was passionate about, I found out I was pregnant. I knew (without anyone ever having to tell me) that I wasn’t going to be “all in.” I was having a third baby, and I was going to slowly moonwalk away from the role I had envisioned for myself.

Almost simultaneously an opportunity appeared for us to join a new effort. Even though my husband would be taking the lead, we’d both be expected to contribute. Immediately, he said yes for us both. We soon found ourselves committed to a work we didn’t expect, leaving him frustrated and me hiding my pregnant self under bedcovers claiming morning sickness at 6pm to get out of going. It was uncomfortable and ill-suited. It was hard and we were unhappy. I removed myself from the role that was thrust upon me, and together we plunged into a deeper one of marital and ministry crisis.

How did we get here?

1) We thought making a plan would ensure we’d stick to it.

In prefield training, we filled out a nice little form on “wives roles.” It was never a question that my husband was the point person, but as his “+1,” I had some flexibility. We both agreed on what our perceived roles would be and we even signed on the dotted line to make it look super official.

Then we threw it out the metaphorical window.

When he volunteered me for something, I chafed at the assumptions. When I ended up pregnant, I got angry with him for not holding up his end of the bargain. My parallel role looked more like sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days than tilling soil for the Kingdom.

2) We were too anxious to fulfill roles others chose for us.

I think both singles and married couples can relate to this. We are so readily and happily available to do the work we’ve been waiting years for, we may find ourselves jumping in with both feet without more than a precursory glance towards prayer and counsel.

When Matt said yes for us both, I recoiled. Where was my role in this partnership? And how did the church see me? Are we really two for the price of one, and if so, who is the one holding the lien on my worth?

3) I didn’t seriously consider the role I was already in.

The truth is, my 24/7 role is that of Mom. We had itty bitty ones and though I needed a dose of life outside the four walls of our cluttered semi-detached house, I was still their primary caregiver. Like it or not, we came prepackaged with roles. And in my rush to find a role in the culture, in the ministry and outside of our family unit, I was placing an unrealistic burden on myself as a “cross-cultural worker” when being a “cross cultural wife and mother” is already pretty darn hard.

Which brings me to 2013 and that conversation with our field leader.

“We’ve prayed about it and we think God is asking me to stay home and care for our kids…” <insert long pause> “and that’s it.”

The role I still secretly held on to was making way for a new one: cultivating a thriving family after an extended season of upheaval. I could have gone full-speed into a formal ministry role, but God was asking me to – this time, willingly – surrender that vision for another one. He was encouraging me to rest in Him in the roles He had already set out for me, and to wait on Him for new ones, in His timing.

But the times, they are a-changing. Those three little ones are now all in school and a role shift is about to take place again. I don’t know exactly what it will look like, but I know myself and my limitations better, and I know now that it’s not the role that matters. It’s not even the task at hand. It’s the One who longs for me to sit as His feet and listen.

Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says.

He will show me what is better. And I can’t wait.

How is it going for you in balancing and fulfilling your roles?  

*****

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12 Comments

  1. Elizabeth March 18, 2015

    Oh Karen, this is my story too, right on down to the crisis of the 3rd child! The only difference is, it happened in my home country. We’d been in ministry since we were married (very young!!) and I’d always been equally involved, even after the first two babies, because my mom was in the same town and able to watch my babies for youth trips. I LOVE youth ministry. (Still do.)

    Then I got pregnant with the 3rd baby — I’d been praying and longing for that for many months — and at the same time my oldest was home-school-age. I suddenly found I had to drop out of a lot of ministry. We had to shift a lot of things, even though I’d always been very happy to stay at home with my kids and had even had my own crisis moment in that a few years earlier, which is another story entirely. (Note: A few people weren’t very happy with the change due to the 3rd child.)

    Aside from the personal experiences you share here, I think you’ve touched on a lot of conundrums for couples in ministry. That whole church/org mindset of “we pay you for one but expect the work of two,” for starters. That itself could lead to a huge tangent but I’ll leave it be for now 😉 And “cross cultural wife and mother by itself is already pretty darned hard” for another. Whew! I find I’m so worn out here. Sometimes I look at my life and think, “how weak am I that I can accomplish so few things??”

    I think it’s hilarious that you actually signed on the dotted line. 🙂 “But the times, they are a-changing.” I really relate to that. I’m still homeschooling, but my kids are older now. They still require LOTS of hands-on teaching during the week, but to bring life full circle here, I’ve been able to ease back into youth ministry on weekends for the last year or so. I am LOVING it. Rejoicing with you in all seasons of the motherhood/ministry balance.

    Hugs to you.

    1. Karen Huber March 19, 2015

      Hi Elizabeth! Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, the whole two-for-one thing is something I’ve struggled with. And I have to admit struggling with my worth big time when I think about (ahem, dwell on) the fact that only one of us gets a paycheck. But yes, a whole other tangent! Thankfully, God is (Matt, too!) patient with me! Praising Him, too, that you’re able to ease your way back in, and thriving. 🙂

  2. Anndee March 19, 2015

    Thank you for sharing this!  I’m a mom of two on the field, wondering how to “do it all” and really needing to take time to discern my ministry role outside my home and to move toward God’s best for my family.

    1. Karen Huber March 19, 2015

      Hi Anndee! Thanks for commenting. I wonder that, too, sometimes. And it’s always evolving… what has been best for us before is not always the case later. And as someone who’s always itching to do “something else” besides being “just a mom,” it was a true time of stretching when God told me that was enough. Praying you find some rest and encouragement as you discern your role!

  3. MaDonna March 19, 2015

    So glad you are sharing this. I see too many young moms fighting that same battle – I know this will be an encouragement to them. Today I got to meet with three young moms and shared with them basically what you shared here, but will be emailing them this because I think it will encourage them even more than my few words did today. 😉

    On my own life, I struggle from time to time with this because I don’t see any changes in the near future, if ever. My daughter has special needs and it requires quite a bit of my time to care for her. Today, I’m okay with it all – but there are days/seasons when I cry out to God about how this was not what I had planned when I moved overseas to build up his Kingdom. (sometimes I’m kind of snarky with God…thank goodness for grace and new mercies every morning, but also for those lightening bolt moments where He gets my attention when I’m being a little too much – know what I mean?) Anyway, to sum it up I’m learning (work-in-progress) to be content with what role that God has put me in during my life here on earth.

    1. Karen Huber March 19, 2015

      Oh, the snark! I’m right there with you. Thankfully, I think He can take it. And probably chuckles at us from time to time! I’m thankful for those lightning bolt moments, too. Thanks for sharing these words here with your friends! I’m so glad when something God has been teaching me – slow as I am to sometimes get it – speaks to others.

  4. Fiona Lynne March 19, 2015

    “being a “cross cultural wife and mother” is already pretty darn hard”. Yes to this. This is such an important story to tell. So glad you are listening to the Spirit’s callings on your life and finding the courage to say yes, even when it’s not always what you or others expected.

    1. Karen Huber March 20, 2015

      Fiona! I’m so glad you shared this. I’m enjoying learning so much from you, too… even though I’m past the infant stage, I’m thankful for the wisdom you’re offering to us in the midst of it. xx

  5. Monica March 20, 2015

    My heart resonates so much with this.  My husband and I started our overseas career- just the two of us, no kids.  When we had our first born, eleven years ago, my whole world turned upside down, and I frantically tried to figure out how to keep up with our work roles and ministry with a little one in tow.  I didn’t pull back and I didn’t slow down- I hauled through more language learning (second country/second assignment), finding service opportunities in the medical field and serving our organization in a myriad of ways.  Then number 2 came along, and I just kept pushing through.  When number 3 joined our family, I actually added more work onto my plate in a desperate desire to stay involved and have purpose, along with meeting the needs I saw around me.  My husband was concerned, especially when I started putting pressure on him to ‘do more’ (even though he was wearing about 3 different ‘hats’ and had several demands on his time).  I was saying ‘yes’ for the both of us without even talking to him about it first…. so we started to collapse on the inside.  Overwhelmed, tired, hurt, and starting to break, I realized not to long ago that my drive to keep pace with the real or unreal expectations ‘out there somewhere’ was becoming destructive.  Our family was somehow thriving in the midst of it all- especially our kids, thank God, but inwardly my husband and I were barely surviving.  We are half way through our sabbatical year and I’ve enjoyed sitting at the Lord’s feet… just waiting and listening.  It’s new for me, and I know He is already doing something new in the life of our family, and I love it.  I don’t ever want to go back to the way I was operating only a year ago.  Even though I was genuinely trying to serve, and be a blessing, the pressure I placed on myself (and my husband) was just too much.  I’m so thankful for His Grace, and also for a safe place like VA where people can share their stories and relate on so many levels.

    1. Karen Huber March 20, 2015

      Monica, thank you so much for your comment. It sounds like you have such a heart for your people, your ministry and your family, I can see how difficult it would be to know when to slow down – and to buckle down and do it. Thankful that the Lord is giving you that time to rest at His feet, and that you’re thriving in it!

  6. Brittany March 20, 2015

    Karen, fresh mom/overseas workers like me are greatly encouraged by this post and we appreciate the reminder.  It’s so hard to accept that I often “place an unrealistic burden on myself as a ‘cross-cultural worker’ when being a ‘cross cultural wife and mother’ is already pretty darn hard.”  I certainly don’t need that burden!

    1. Karen Huber March 20, 2015

      True story, Brittany. I was thinking, when new to the field, between education and food and sleep schedules and friend-making and language and discipline and housing and EVERYTHING… mothering cross-culturally seems like pretty hard work to me! Glad you feel released and hoping you find freedom – and fruit – in it! x

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