Last Tuesday, when I dragged myself across the finish line of my job as an on-campus custodian, I was completely burned out and used up. This summer was incredibly difficult, and I had hit the point where I had nothing left of myself to give, yet I knew that come Wednesday morning I was going to enter a new position as an orientation leader where I would need to offer myself freely.
Tonight, however, as I sit on the tail end of international student orientation leading, I can honestly say that if I had to choose one word to describe the past eight whirlwind days, I would choose joy!
While it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I loved working with the new international students, I was caught off guard by how quickly and completely they stole my heart. They breathed new life into the parts of me that died this summer, and gave me a fresh perspective on my strengths.
When I was with my students, I got to simply be Kelly. Although I was playing the role of orientation leader, for the first time in months I felt valued not for what I could do, but for who I was.
As an orientation leader, my purpose was twofold. Firstly, I was to help the students complete tasks such as opening bank accounts, acquiring student ID cards, buying laptops, finding housing, learning English vocabulary, and paying campus fees, to name a few. Secondly, and more importantly, I was to help the students feel welcome, both at our university and in America.
Although taking care of the practical details of moving to a foreign country was an important part of orientation leading, in extending hospitality to the students I found the true sweet spot where my passions and abilities collided with their needs.
One moment I would be fielding a practical question such as “Where is the white paste for my salad?” And then, in the next moment a student would ask why people from her host family’s church celebrated when members of the church were dunked in a lake. For as useful as I felt explaining the location of the ranch dressing, it was when a student’s inquiry about baptism gave me an opportunity to share the Gospel with her for the first time that I realized the eternal weight and significance of what I did this past week.
By simply being myself, my all-in, empathetic, passionate, intuitive, culture-loving self, I became a familiar face and a safe space to land for students who came here not only seeking an academic experience, but also seeking spiritual fulfillment from a God they have not yet had the chance to encounter.
The truly incredible part of orientation leading was that in giving my time and energy to the students, I was able to receive a precious gift. In accepting me as Kelly and allowing me to live into my strengths, my students gave me a renewed chance to believe that God didn’t make any mistakes in His creation of me. Do I have rough edges and areas in need of improvement? Absolutely! But when others give me encouragement and more importantly, when I give myself permission to let go of who I “should” be and live into my true identity, the result is pure, unadulterated joy!