Trailing Spouse: He Heard, “Go!” and I Said, “No!”

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Genesis 12:1

When my husband first told me, rather excitedly, that he wanted to apply with Team Expansion to become a missionary in Cambodia, I did not in any way share his excitement. I had many mistaken ideas about missionary life – mistaken ideas that told me, “No! Never! Don’t go!”

MISTAKEN IDEAS

I thought I was facing a permanent relocation, regardless of how miserable I might become – and I was convinced I would be quite miserable. I believed I would live in a hut somewhere in the jungle and spend my days lugging water for laundry and gathering firewood for cooking. Housework would so consume me that I wouldn’t have time to homeschool, and I would never see my husband again. I thought a missionary husband is never at home, but instead serves the needs of his community, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, for years on end.

trailing

I’m also some sort of unstable cross between a Germophobe and a Hypochondriac. This condition can lead to some rather interesting conversations about deadly infectious possibilities, and is especially virulent during pregnancy and childbirth. As a woman who had recently given birth, but who was also quite sure she wanted another baby, I didn’t take my husband’s missionary suggestion well.

My situation has a name: Trailing Spouse. The term can apply to spouses of missionaries, diplomats, members of the armed forces, and international businessmen. In my case, it meant that my husband had a strong call to missions, and I did not. I could not manufacture a call. Believe me. I tried.

I thought, however, that in order to be a good wife, I was required to go. I wanted to have the faith of Sarah, who followed her husband Abraham away from her homeland through the desert to a land they didn’t even know.

TRYING TO BE SARAH

So we did what we had always done for big decisions: we asked God what He wanted us to do. I tried hard to listen to God’s voice, but it seemed like my husband’s voice was so loud, I couldn’t hear God. I felt tremendous internal pressure to say yes, because, after all, God would never tell people not to obey the Great Commission and become missionaries, would He? And God would never tell a husband one thing and a wife another, would He?

I felt guilty for not wanting to apply with Team Expansion, and in my guilt, I agreed to apply. I was not happy about this decision. Each morning when I woke up, I would suddenly remember the path we were plodding, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to live anymore. It took a lot of work to get out of bed in the morning to face a life I didn’t want to live.

I studied Saint Patrick, the man who brought Christianity to Ireland. I tried conjuring up my high school dreams of being a Peace Corps worker and doing grand things in some developing country. I tried to emulate Sarah, who followed her husband, who was following God. I even dragged my husband to my grief counselor to discuss this issue. Her advice? We needed more information in order to make a reasonable decision.

In an effort to gain more information, and in spite of the fact that I still didn’t feel a call, we attended Launch, Team Expansion’s two-week orientation. Everyone at the home office was excited about missions, and their excitement was contagious. At the time I thought that excitement would be enough for me to overcome my doubts.

After Launch, my husband made a survey trip. He made the trip alone because I was in the first trimester of a new pregnancy, and far too scared to visit a third world country. He explored Phnom Penh, uninhibited by my many fears. He returned home with a love for the Cambodian people and quite convinced that we could survive in the capital city. His research about daily living details, which are of utmost importance to me, was thorough enough that I, too, was convinced of the live-ability of Phnom Penh.

However, when we tried to set an actual departure date, I froze in fear. I realized I couldn’t go. I had too many fears. There were simply too many unknowns. In my mind, my abundant life in America was filmed in color. I looked ahead into a future in Cambodia, and saw only darkness.

What on earth were we going to do about this?

HEARING MY OWN CALL

We took a week-long break from discussing Cambodia with each other. (Remember how I had difficulty discerning God’s voice from my husband’s voice?) For one week, we planned to talk only to God about it. During this time of seeking, a veteran missionary shared her story with me. She spoke of fear and faith, and how she learned to trust God to go with her to new places, even though she was afraid – and she was often afraid. She said her fear problem was really about not having enough faith.

Her faith story helped me see that God was going to go with me wherever I went in this world. I had not thought that God would go with me to new places. I unconsciously thought I would step on a plane and leave Him in America – as if God is confined to one place.

She advised us that whatever decision we made, both of us needed to be 100 percent sure. I couldn’t go to Cambodia and make my husband feel responsible for ruining my happy American lifestyle. He couldn’t stay in America and make me feel responsible for ruining his missionary dreams.

During that week we also asked our church’s elders to meet with us. When we met, they spoke of husbands loving and sacrificing for their wives. They spoke of God’s love and esteem for marriage. I absorbed all the wisdom we had received that week, and I began to understand that this needed to be a joint decision – not one person submitting to another person, but a unified decision.

I had been listening to my husband’s call for a long time, and had told myself I didn’t need a call if he had one. I thought I could simply follow him, like Sarah. In the end, I’m not sure I had enough faith to use my husband’s call as my own. I needed one myself, and God graciously provided.

My call wasn’t a big epiphany moment or an audible voice, but I had a deep sense of peace about going overseas that I had never had before. I needed to know that God would go with me, and that gave me the courage to say yes to His call. I didn’t know how He was going to help with my fears. I didn’t know how all the daily living details were going to work out. But I knew God was with me, and that I was safe with God. Suddenly, He didn’t feel distant to me anymore.

I knew I could choose to go or stay, and either would be OK. For the first time, I could say, “Yes” in my heart without hesitation, but I could no longer say, “No” without hesitation.

GOING INTO THE LAND GOD SHOWED US

I was finally able to lay down that Trailing Spouse label. I survived hard times in our first year overseas – difficult transitions, illnesses of all kinds, even an attempted break-in – without blaming my husband. I have assurance that I’m supposed to be here, and not just because God called my husband here, but because God called me here. I am glad I followed Him.

I have seen my already-happy marriage blossom as a result of following God to Cambodia. Our family has grown closer together. I have watched my children grow in flexibility, maturity, and spiritual sensitivity. I am a different person myself. I’m less rigid. I’m no longer such an extreme Hypochondriac and Germaphobe. I’m less judgmental of others.

I’ve experienced God in deeper ways than ever before, and He has helped me see and meet other people’s needs more readily. I would never go back to the way I was before. This journey is just beginning, but each day, I’m more thankful that I finally said, “Yes.”

———————————————————-

This article originally appeared in the 2013 issue of Team Expansion’s TELL magazine, pages four and five.

22 thoughts on “Trailing Spouse: He Heard, “Go!” and I Said, “No!”

  1. Just read this, last nite, in Tell magazine. Well done Elizabeth, Well done!! So PROUD of you for being so transparent!! 🙂 see you in a few weeks @ RB!! 🙂

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Thanks Pam! We are looking forward to seeing you too — we were just talking last night about our plan for going to Chipotle with you and Don and being able to catch up without the kids!

  2. I think I keep forgetting to tell you that I really enjoyed your article in the mag. The day it came in the mail, I picked it up and read it from beginning to end while still standing in front of the open front door. You did a great job! And I know I’ve told you before how deeply I appreciate this particular part of your and Jonathan’s missionary story.

  3. This article is such a blessing as my wife, children and I prepare to relocate to Thailand in the next two years. Any suggested reading materials to help prepare all of us?

  4. P.S. we read your article on how to transition to the field and not croak, we loved it. It really blessed my wife. Thanks again.
    Jeff

  5. Elizabeth, thank you for sharing your story with Velvet Ashes this week. My favorite part of your story is how saying “yes” transformed and enhanced what was important to you! Blessings

    • Thank you for reading it, Patty. ❤ This story is one of the most significant turning points in my life. At one point I thought it would be my "only" story. God has a way of changing that though!

      I LOVED your Grove for this theme. Loved the lessons from the lives of the Prophets! It would be so awesome to meet you someday. I've heard so many good things about you from Danielle Wheeler and Tanya Crossman 🙂

      Blessings.

  6. Elizabeth, I love your honesty in this! I remember feeling the opposite – full of excited anticipation, only to discover that the reality hit hard. I have found a wonderful global group of people who understand, inform and support me wherever life take me, but back then.. eek. I’m so glad that blogs like yours are out there, connecting us all!

    • Well, reality still hits hard sometimes. 🙂 I, too, have found a good support system. I’m so thankful for that! And thank you, Rachel, for dropping by and reading my story. 🙂

  7. Elizabeth, I didn’t know this piece of your story! I loved reading it. And I love how you said you thought it would be your “only” story. 🙂 God’s pretty amazing that way, isn’t he? There’s always another story…

    • Yes, always another story 🙂 This one in particular was such a huge part of my life that I forget that people I’ve met after moving overseas might not know it! Thanks for dropping by and reading it 🙂

  8. Thank you for sharing so much in your blog. My husband and I both have a desire/tug to “go” where ever that is – we don’t know. Reading these from someone who has been there is very encouraging. I noticed a local friend of mine has liked your page, and I know she has posted several times about praying for a Team Expansion at her church, I am wondering if that is the same one? Interesting.

    • Hi Meg! It’s nice to connect on here 🙂 There are lots of Team Expansion missionaries — some in sensitive areas — and lots of churches that support Team Expansion missionaries or the home office itself, so there’s really no way to know if there’s a real-life (or online) connection without knowing who you’re talking about 🙂 But feel free to email me privately if you want to know more details!

      And I’m so glad this post was encouraging to you!

      ~Elizabeth

  9. I feel my soul laid bare reading your eloquent words. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s rare to come across this perspective; I’ve always thought all missionaries just have a burning, holy passion their entire lives. I was one of those who stumbled on your blog while doing tearful late-night searches for “my husband wants to be a missionary and I don’t,” or something like that. Your words are honest, humble and encouraging. I look forward to following your blog and reading more about your journey.

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