When I had a job, it was easier to define my role in life. Teacher - The focus of my life seemed to fit well into that description. I spent time preparing lessons, teaching, grading, meeting with students, planning extracurricular activities. Language Student - my expectations were pretty clear: Learn Chinese. Go to class, study on my own, meet with a tutor. My purpose and actions were directly defined by my role.
For the past year I have been a part-time teacher. That has been a little harder to define, because while I was doing something definite, it was only about 10% of my life. And since it wasn't my main role, it never felt quite as "real." It seemed more like a side thing I was doing for fun, so I just needed to make it fit in where I could. Nevertheless, there was a contract and a salary, and nothing says "this is a legitimate job" like actually getting paid for doing something.
But now I am venturing into a new role, one that doesn't seem to define anything. Next semester my official title will be "supporting spouse." Honestly all the terms that have attempted to describe this role make me cringe: Accompanying spouse, non-teaching spouse, trailing spouse, "I'm just along for the ride" spouse (okay, I made up that last one).
Maybe this is egocentric, but any of these titles make me feel like a supporting actress in the story of my own life. I definitely think I should support Kevin in his work; I also think he should support me in my work. After years of having the same role - teacher and then student - our roles are different now and mostly very traditional. But I don't think either of us is supposed to be the "main player" in this life we are sharing.
I want to support Kevin, but I didn't come here for him. (I didn't even know him when I came!) I came because I was called, and we stayed because we are called - both of us. I believe God brought us together and when he calls us to a place, he has a purpose there for both of us.
But I struggle sometimes, now that I have lost my titles, or at least the titles that make any sense. Sometimes when you stop being The Teacher, people forget your years of teaching experience and assume you don't know what you're talking about. Sometimes when you stop being The Student, people forget you still remember (some) of the things you learned. Sometimes when you are The Spouse, people ask your husband questions about culture and ask you questions about laundry.
Sometimes I feel that when I lost my title, I also lost my voice.
And I feel the loss. Kevin and I have lived in China for the same length of time, we have held the same jobs, we have studied almost the same amount of Chinese, and we even have exactly the same masters degree. But since he is Teacher and Leader, and since I am Spouse, others seem less interested in what I have to offer - or maybe I truly do have less to offer. I feel I have lost some of who I am and who I have been.
I try to sift through the pride that is certainly there - the desire to be significant and recognized. I admit the selfishness inherent in every human regardless of their title - the desire to become greater instead of less.
But I also recognize the longing to acknowledge that I have gifts and talents far beyond the scope of laundry, and I want to use them for the benefit of others and the work we do. I want to be faithful to my calling - and motherhood and spouse-hood, while incredibly significant and highly time consuming, are not my full calling.
So how do I find my niche? How do I find my true role within this this ambiguous title of "Supporting Spouse"? I don't know. This is a questions post, not an answers post. All I know is that in my questions I hear a quiet voice saying, “Remember the fearless woman leader, the left-handed judge, the shepherd king, the persecutor turned preacher, the baby Savior? I have been redefining roles and titles since the beginning of time. You are bigger than any box because I am bigger.”
I truly believe that God gives contentment and purpose within the roles he has for us. I also truly believe that God gives incredible freedom beyond titles - freedom to listen and seek and discover what he has for us. I am still learning how to be content and discontent, how to accept and reject the titles given and taken away, how to work within and beyond. I am still looking for my niche.