The Tired Advocate

My heart so quickly goes back to the early days, not long after I got the phone call from Joe. I didn’t know Joe very well then. I met him when I was eighteen at a training course for blind and visually impaired students. Unaware to me, Joe had been in the background of my life from that point forward— looking on quietly without saying much. He played an integral role in the camp I attended as a teenager and remained with the organization as I became an adult volunteer and rekindled my love for YLF.
When the camp came into hard times, Joe called me. He wanted to know if I would be interested in helping him bring the camp back in the coming year. I knew it would be best to pray and think about it, but I quickly gave my consent. I just had no idea that my decision would set the tone for the next five-and-a-half years of my life. What started out as being the head staff person with the job title of “Team Leader” quickly morphed into something more like “assistant director.” And before I knew it, I was poised at the brink of the inevitable: being director.
I recall standing in the lobby of our dormitory one Tuesday afternoon in June when Joe looked at me and said something like: “I have an appointment in Wausau today. You’re going to be in charge while I’m gone.”
“When will you be coming back?” I asked.
“I won’t be,” he answered. “You’ve got this.”
“What do you mean?” I exclaimed. “You’re just LEAVING?”
I imagine that my words probably came out rather loud and probably a tinge hysterical. How could he do this to me? I wasn’t prepared for this! I couldn’t be in charge— for what?— the rest of the week? Oh, no! This was NOT happening!
But the time had come, and even though I felt far from ready, I also knew it was time for me to step out and lead. And that’s what I did for the next three-and-a-half years.
But it wasn’t easy. In my first two hours of being director, a staff member became extremely ill and almost unresponsive, a student accidently set off the building security alarm, and a presenter showed up unannounced with the assumption that he was going to speak to the students. I remember sitting at dinner that night across from a staff member I now consider to be a dear friend. I was crying, but my tears were silent— my overwhelm manifesting itself on my face. I wasn’t sure I was cut out for the task at hand. But the camp needed me, and I needed to step up in a huge way.
When my tears dried, a measure of adrenaline took hold. In less than two years, we had established ourselves as a state-incorporated 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and between filing tax forms and applying for grants, my dedicated staff and I were constantly working to better the organization. I am incredibly thankful for the faithful few who worked so hard during that time, for I honestly couldn’t have done it myself. I can’t help but think of the insightful African proverb that says it best: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Together, we re-built YLF to make it bigger and better, beyond what I could ever do alone.
But over the next few years, it wasn’t hard to slip into my own, independent ways. Yes, I had staff to support me and a board of directors available at every turn, but I somehow thought that I could do everything myself. Everything had to be updated and revamped, and in a way, there were no guidelines. We were starting over, and sometimes it was just easier for me to take the reins and do what a director does: direct.
Fatigue and incredible stress were common in those early days, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. To see the confidence and leadership skills blossom in our students was all the reward I needed. When there was little or no financial reward— only the reimbursement for supplies— it didn’t matter. There was a greater goal and purpose than financial gain.
But somewhere along the way, the soil got rocky. I began to feel restless and frustrations began to mount. No, it was never the students or the workload that caused me to groan under the weight. It was more of a logistical burden that began to take shape. I lived more than a three-hour drive from our base, and since I am unable to drive, it was a constant struggle to arrange transportation. The board of directors began to be more involved in planning for the camp, and at first, this was a huge asset. But since I had worked so hard to build us up from our meager beginnings, I felt a sense of ownership. I had done so much on my own and made so many decisions, it was hard to turn everything over into another’s hands.
I tried to work through the transition. Things were looking up for YLF. The finances were stable (always looking for more funders, but we were doing okay), our staff were amazing, and we were continuing to see the growth of our students. From the outside looking in, you would think that I would be crazy to feel restless and uncertain. But I just felt that something wasn’t right in my spirit. My heart told me I could maybe hold out for another few years, but my head and body spoke of fatigue.
I was at a conference not too long ago at the very same time my mind and heart were waging for a decision to be made. It was as if the speaker was offering up his words for me alone. He spoke of the “tired advocate” and how it mirrors a certain heaviness. I had always heard it said that you had to be an advocate for yourself before you could advocate for others. Well, I had been doing it in reverse for so long now, no wonder I was exhausted. Often I would work so hard on behalf of our students or organization, that at the end of the day I would balk at being assertive for anything I needed. If I was struggling at work or there was an obstacle on the road as I walked along, I would simply let it go. It wasn’t worth speaking up or making a complaint. There was too little time to think of my comfort level or success.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that YLF dragged me down to a place where I neglected everything that was important. YLF was never a negative influence in my life. It became a time where I learned far more about myself than I could ever have imagined. I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences with YLF for the world. However, it has come time for me to take a step back and reevaluate my next steps. It is time for me to rediscover what life is like without YLF— like it was almost six years ago.
I will continue to lead worship at my local church and volunteer my time and gifts to as many causes as time and resources will allow, but YLF will no longer be a part of the picture. I made the decision to resign as director, but this will not close the door on the many relationships I have established over the years. My role as director may come to an end, but my YLF friendships will last forever. I need to take this time to discover what God has next for me on the horizon and to reawaken the livelihood of this tired advocate.
Thank you to the many who have labored alongside of me, prayed over the decision that I inevitably made, and those who will remain priceless friends and confidants. Here’s to you, YLF! Keep shining like the rock star leaders you are, and I can’t wait to witness all of your accomplishments.

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