Watching Nascent Gifts Transform Into Their Truer Forms

We are excited Shelly Page agreed to let me, Amy, and Kim interview her about this week’s theme. She’s been a Connection Group Mentor and consistently enriches our conversations in the comments. Here’s how one friend described her.

Shelly Page was a small town Michigan girl who one day found herself in big city China. In the midst of teaching high school English and taking graduate classes, she took a risk (and her gifts) and followed God across the ocean. In her 12 years in China, she has been teacher, team leader, professional development director, and trainer. But where she pours her heart out the most is in the relationships she nurtures with her teammates, students and co-workers. If you were to ever knock on her door in the morning, you’d find a welcome spot at her breakfast table laid out with a cup of tea, peanut butter toast, and the feeling of having a conversation with a long-time friend.  

Shelly P

What are your gifts? How do you know?

I have to say I struggled to define my gifts because I got stuck on the word “gifts.” I felt like I didn’t have the correct names for gifts/strengths. So, I will try my best to explain what I think are my areas of “giftedness.”

Spiritual gifts tests, taken at different times in my life, have all listed teaching, exhortation and encouragement as gifts. A few other gifts that have shown up in later years include shepherding, administration, and faith. (But, don’t we all have the gift of faith?) These, however, seem to be insufficient for describing what seem to be my gifts and how I have seen them at work in my life.

Through much of my life I have been the person who came in to fill a need. I have called myself a “Utility Girl,” one who has been made able to endure continual change and redirection in my life, and to adapt to the circumstances at hand. Though I am adaptable, I am not without a need for some degree of security or a supportive team in those changes. I can thrive just about anywhere if I am not alone in the work. There have been times in the last few years that I felt alone in my work and it took a toll on me.

Have you always been gifted in these areas? A natural bent? Or did you grow into any of them? How?

I think gifts (special abilities or certain strengths in areas) change over time, and I don’t necessarily mean like colors change from red to blue, but more like red changes to candy-apple red and then to wine. I think life experiences shape and transform nascent gifts into their truer (more mature?) forms. But fear can hold us back from exercising our gifts fully or at all. A trusted friend exhorted me saying my fear holds me back from offering myself more fully to others. We need feedback from trusted friends and spiritual advisors.

This shaping in my life has certainly become more visible in the last decade or so. I’m finally becoming mature enough (yet still maturing) to reflect on life experiences. I was a quiet child, who read or played dolls in my room alone. I was a sensitive child, who desperately wanted to be liked by her peers. But that seemed unlikely to my 9-year-old self because teasing I endured in grade school left me never trusting that I was accepted by my peers. That is something that has stuck with me. I hid behind tasks because they were safer than people and easier to control.

I really wanted to help others do what was right and good. This looked like “bossy” in first grade and “dependable” through high school because I made sure the homecoming float got done, and done well, every year. It wasn’t until my early 30’s,, while leading a team of young teachers in south China, that it was called “controlling.” Ouch! Accepting that adjective as true was a painful lesson, but it opened the way for me to learn how to listen and to respond with grace.

The seeming exponential growth in helping, listening, supporting others in meaningful ways came in the last few years in the midst of a personally difficult season during which a teammate invited me to be more vulnerable about my story as she had already been learning to do in her home community.

Does having a gift compel you to accept invitations? Do you ever take on too much because you are gifted [in a particular way]?

Yes. In my early 30’s I was invited to consider team leading with my current organization. I thought about demographics – I was single and mobile, and there were older women looking to return to public school teaching now that their kids were older. I also considered my ability to adapt to life overseas, and that compelled me to accept the invitation even though I had a steady job and was only half way through my master’s degree program.

You mentioned in an earlier email that you scheduled a day to reflect or begin to reflect on your giftings so that you’re prepared to talk about your return to China. What did you do that day? How did you do it?

My plan was to give myself a day to talk with God about what my life experiences say about me and the gifts He has given me. But it took a couple of weeks from plan to action, and the lists I describe below merely cleared the clutter.

I started the process by asking the question: What energizes me? I looked specifically at the roles I have filled in my current position. Then I started thinking about the question: What wearies me? That was an important question, too. I ended up with two columns “energize” and “weary.” To ensure that I tackled the tasks that I was responsible for in my various roles, I also listed them. By this time I wasn’t anywhere definite in my reflections, but I had stuff on paper. That felt good.

But what did all of this say about my gifts? I am able to change. (Notice I didn’t say I “like” change.) So I created yet another list – a timeline of the jobs I have had since student teaching – and reflected on the reasons for changing jobs.

I observed quite a bit and I’d be more than willing to go into in the comments if anyone is interested, but for the sake of space won’t get into specifics.

How are your gifts being used now on the field?

Well, I have been with my current organization two different times filling needs it had at the time. The most recent role has been in flux since I accepted the position 6 years ago. My adaptability and “utility” gifts have served me well in the years of change and development.

Though I have not sought out leadership positions, I have been invited into them. In my fear of failure, I’d rather say I am not a leader than to declare I am and then be lousy at it. But I can’t deny what I see as I look back on my life – I have led in a lot of different ways since middle school, and usually not from the front.

I think this is evident in my role as Director of Professional Development. One example would be that I want mentoring meetings to be more than technical reviews of classroom practice; I want to explore how they put God on display in the work teachers do and the Person they reflect to their students. And I think that God has made me a warm and inviting person, with whom people feel at ease and accepted, so that such conversations are more possible.

When I return to the field in August, I don’t know exactly what I will be doing.  Regardless of the specific role I will fill, I know I will continue to come alongside others to help them become who they were meant to be, even as I learn to let others come alongside me.

Pick one of the questions we asked Shelly and let’s get to know YOU in the comments 🙂

Photo Source : Unsplash

22 Comments

  1. Wendy January 21, 2015

    I’ve definitely changed over time and as my life situation changed. When I first came to the field I had little children and language study. Those shaped my life for the first eight years on the field and since the children have gone to school I’ve been able to branch out more. I said yes to a role (assistant magazine editor), that led to more leadership and organisation roles than I’d previously done. There was pain in the growing, but I’ve definitely gained skills in those areas.

    1. Shelly January 23, 2015

      Wendy, thanks for sharing your journey of moving into new roles. There usually is pain as we climb that steep learning curve.

      A question came to mind as I thought about your comment: would you say the skills you have gained in the new roles enrich the gifts that you brought to those new roles?

      One of the challenges I faced as I answered these questions was whether my “skills” were my “gifts” or not. I have been in positions that others have wisely said: You can do this job very well, but that doesn’t mean it is where you are meant to be. And in response to that timely word, I considered the role that I have been in for the last 4.5 years.

      Have others wondered if “skill” and “gift” are the same thing, or articulated their relationship to one another?

      1. Wendy January 25, 2015

        Yes, I would say the skills I’ve learnt have enriched my gifts. For example, I’ve learnt more about sensitive leadership. Two gifts that come up pretty much every time I do one of those surveys are encouragement and serving. That I’ve not really been an up-front leader is no surprise. But my role as a magazine editor (for a magazine for and by overseas workers) has meant I’ve had a lot of contact with overseas workers and needed to exercise considerable leadership with writers as well as editors and designers. So one thing I’ve learnt is how to encourage in the midst of challenging situations.

        A while ago I wrote a blogpost about finding my sweet spot (not my best piece of writing, by a long shot, but relevant to this discussion): http://mmuser.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/finding-my-sweet-spot.html

        1. Shelly January 31, 2015

          I read your post and appreciated the closing paragraph. I include it here for quick reference to others checking back on comments:

          Don’t … look at everyone else and envying others, how God has gifted them. Ask God to help you find what He’s gifted you for. It could be anything, but it will not be exactly the same as anyone else. God made you, and me, unique. By His grace we can use that uniqueness to glorify Him in what we do.

          Yes. Let us ask Him, listen, act on what we’ve heard, listen again (to our souls and the Lover of them), and continue the conversation with Him.

  2. Elizabeth January 22, 2015

    I love that you eat peanut butter toast, as I eat peanut butter nearly every morning 🙂 I totally relate to fear holding you back — I have had so much fear the past couple years as I’ve bungled along and found my place and my voice. I am continually shedding layers of fear it seems. So, here’s to a fearlessness in following God, no matter where we find ourselves on this great big planet. Blessings!

    1. Shelly January 23, 2015

      Elizabeth, it is fun to find another peanut butter lover! I can’t remember the last time I had something other than pb toast and black tea for breakfast. 😉  I like the picture of shedding layers of fear. I really feel like the last few years, in particular, have been that for me. And persisting in the shedding has come in the company of friends…and even in this virtual community of friends. Thank you for the blessing of “fearlessness in following God, no matter where we find ourselves on this great big planet.”  Yes!

  3. Jennifer January 22, 2015

    I liked what you said about things “energizing” you, rather than “wearying” you as being one consideration. I am beginning to recognize that this is a useful clue for me in how to respond to the “can you” questions, which it is all too easy simply to agree with. I think this is a valuable consideration which we often overlook.

    1. Wesley January 22, 2015

      Me, too! Its so easy to say yes especially because I get in the mentality that someone has to do it … and minimize what else I have on my plate. Slowly, very slowly learning that I don;t have to pick up the slack. I find choosing to stick with things that energize me to be more difficult in a ministry context where I know just how much everyone has to do. The posts this week have gotten me thinking about how we should be focusing on giftings instead of focusing on competency alone.

      1. Shelly January 23, 2015

        Wesley, I am right there with you on the “picking up the slack’ and “knowing how much everyone has to do”! The latter phrase is SO much a part of my thinking that I tend to do things by myself so that I don’t impose on others. Or, I just bemoan the “fact” that I “have to do things alone.” (Sad, isn’t it?) Bravo that you are seeing this in your life, and I think you are right on with the contrast between “gift” and “competence.” (One of my earlier comments touches on that topic.)  Please share with us some of your ponderings on that point.

        1. Wesley January 24, 2015

          Shelly – smiled when I saw your other comment about skills and gifts : ) I’ve been here for a little over 18 months and moved overseas a month after college and those questions have certainly been the theme of this time. In this time, I think that God led me with my skills (which are in themselves gifts from Him to serve Him) and is using the place they led me to reveal my gifts. I still only have half-finished thoughts on this as I am preparing to transition in December … to I don’t know what! Lots of praying about which of my many, seemingly unrelated passions to pursue combined with asking God what are the gifts He wants me to use, and which skills he wants me to grow to be competent in these areas. I really think that it comes back to your energize and weary question. Gifts are probably ultimately going to energize and if skills are exercised and used separate from gifts, they probably weary.

          It is hard that when we should be pressing in to encourage and help each other in the face of “too much to do,” we feel that need to work alone (right there with what you shared!). Even with deadlines and full plates, it seems that there could be encouragement just in knowing that we are working towards a common goal. But I would still rather do it solo and “just get it done.” This is one identified problem that I am just not quiet sure how (or ready?) to practically implement changes in my actions : )

          1. Shelly January 31, 2015

            Wesley,

            Thanks for taking time to expound on the topic. (Sorry I’m coming back rather late to it. I’m not as skilled in navigating this online world; it overwhelms me sometimes.)

            This sentence of yours sums it up nicely: “Gifts are probably ultimately going to energize and if skills are exercised and used separate from gifts, they probably weary.” In time, yes, I think so. And, there are skills to be learned so that we can better exercise our gifts. This all takes the insight of the Holy Spirit, who knows the mind of God and brings it to light for us, in a given moment of time. I pray that you will hear His whispers directing you in these coming weeks and months. I believe that He wants us to experience joy in our service to Him; joy that comes from offering our love to Him in acts of service that are fitted to who we are.

    2. Shelly January 23, 2015

      Jennifer, I agree. It is SO easy to say “yes” to those “can you do…?” I think especially if one of our weaknesses is needing to be needed. Knowing ourselves well and having a couple of questions to vet the request can help us. I also think, as I have said in this comment thread and in other comments on VA, community is needed. Do I have a friend who will ask me about those requests if they seem to be taking more from me than they should? I hope you will make time during the semester break to give this some thought. (If you’re like me, get a friend to set a deadline, and then meet together to talk about your observations.)

    3. MaDonna January 25, 2015

      Yes! totally agree….in the middle of finishing up something that does not energize me, but filled a need. I have a few more months left, but this post was good to think about for the future.

      Thanks for the idea of making columns to reflect the projects/jobs/activities that “energized” and those that “wearied”. I believe I will be doing that this semester as I make plans for next year.

  4. Monica January 22, 2015

    Great post!  I really love the paragraph addressing the questions of “what energizes me?” and “What wearies me?” As I was reading this post I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote ‘weary’ and ‘energizing’ down, to help me start thinking about those things…especially as my husband and I are in the middle of discussing our ‘next steps’ with our organization. So helpful!  Thanks!

     

     

    1. Shelly January 23, 2015

      It makes me happy to find others encouraged by this simple exercise. I didn’t come up with it; my supervisor on the field asked me to think about these in an effort to gain some perspective on my gifts. I am in the middle of a year off the field and have been blessed with no staff responsibilities so that I might rethink the capacity in which I serve. May you and your husband find the “sweet spot” for your service.

  5. Kathy Vaughan January 23, 2015

    Thanks, Shelly, for sharing about your day with God and your preparations for it.  I have recently returned to the field, and am at a point in ministry where I will be doing something very different than I did (and loved) before.  As opportunities have presented themselves, I have been asking God to clearly show me what He has in mind for me for the next steps.  I think I have been subconsciously thinking about what energizes me and what wearies me as I consider the opportunities before me.  I do believe this can be a reflection of giftedness.  Because of what you have shared, I will take time to ponder this more intentionally, and trust that God will use this as part of the way that He will direct me to His new call on my life.

    1. Shelly January 23, 2015

      Kathy, I’m so glad that this was timely for you. I, too, have heard about opportunities and am still figuring out if there is one that most resonates with me. That doesn’t mean it is the one that I feel most confident about doing; it might be the one I am really scared to venture into, but God seems to be inviting me to it.  Let’s pray together that we will know ourselves better as we grow in our knowledge of him.

  6. T January 24, 2015

    Someone once gave us a cd of Bill Hybels (I think) teaching on leadership and burnout.  He spoke about primary, secondary, and tertiary giftings.  Like you’d said, when we are working out of our primary gifting, then we are energized.  The energy we get tapers off as we get down towards the tertiary gifting.  He said that if we are having to work too much in something not our gifting, or down just in tertiary w/out getting to enjoy using our primary gifting, then we will get run down.  I see it as losing zest for life/ministry.  Food for thought…

    1. Elizabeth January 24, 2015

      I love Bill Hybels! I haven’t heard of this primary/secondary/tertiary idea, but it makes a whole lot of sense. May have to look that up.

    2. Shelly January 31, 2015

      T, thanks for sharing that idea. If you have a link to it, would you share it.

  7. Ellie January 25, 2015

    I was also thinking of the thing about first and second giftings etc. I often find myself doing “admin” or “organising” people and stuff things but while I can do it I don’t thrive on that at all.. I get burned out and frustrated. The things that energise me are leading women’s prayer days, bible studies, preaching… And I was encouraged by Patty Stallings’ post about “8 things I know about you” when she says What is easy for you isn’t easy for others.. because that’s really helpful, it’s true: I assume that others will be fighting to lead those things when maybe they’re not and I should just go for it whenever I get the chance that feels like such a lovely golden joyful opportunity for me?!

    I’m also wondering a lot at the moment about using a “latent” gift for writing which I just feel too shy and ill-equipped to “do” something about?!

  8. Wendy January 25, 2015

    The caution I feel we need to remember when discussing gifts is that we can’t use them as excuses for things that have to be done by us. For example, I wasn’t a particularly gifted mum of young children, but I had to do it, I couldn’t hand this off to someone else. As an overseas worker we have to do things that we aren’t necessarily gifted at, for example prayer letter writing and public speaking. At present (on home assignment) our family has to do a lot of “new friend making” which, while it is probably something I’m somewhat gifted at, isn’t a gift for most of my family. However we have to do it, so we do. “How” we do it is something we have more control over. So we’re not doing it every day of every week, we’re spacing things out, we’re taking a longer home assignment  than many people do so that we can have more stability and more down-time. Just a thought.

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