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.
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 🙂
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