Confessions of a Trailing Spouse

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When Roy heard the call to be a missionary, I heard absolutely nothing — not even the faintest whisper of a call. I figured if God really wanted me to be a missionary, I would also be offered a challenging, satisfying job. Besides, for our family life and my career, it was the worst possible time to uproot and move.

Eventually, however, I lost that battle against God and husband and became a trailing spouse of a hospital CEO.

Whether the circumstance is a government job, international business, or mission service, the phrase “trailing spouse” is fraught with negative connotations and mockingly points to those tagging along on their spouse’s new and exciting adventure. Trailing spouses often arrive without a designated job and get pushed from one trivial task to another. And if they are given a job, it’s usually unrelated to their profession, education, or strengths. In my case, I received a catchall, glorified title—Director of Special Projects—where “special” meant anything that someone did not or could not do! I was a very unhappy trailing spouse.

In addition to my dissatisfying nine-to-five missionary workday, I had a dark cloud of misfortune hanging over me. Our little hot water tank would blow a fuse only when I was the one in the shower stall of our freezing bathroom. Fifty people around a campfire, and I’d be the one bitten by an unidentified, possibly venomous insect. Hearing about a truck load of fresh mangoes, I’d trek down the hill, along muddy roads, only to find the woman ahead of me buying the last mango. Such recurring experiences wound me into a tight ball of resentment and self-pity, and I was certain that God sometimes calls one to go and the other to follow in silence.

But all that changed one dark moonless night on a narrow dusty path shared by people, cows, and stray dogs. The epiphany came when I stepped into a deep pile of fresh, warm cow dung! Screaming and flailing my arms in rage, I raised my eyes from the dung at my feet to the sky above. And that’s when I saw the most gorgeous, star-studded sky! Apparently this was the celestial view every cloudless night in Nepal, yet it was my first! So engrossed in all the terrible things happening to poor little me, I had never looked up to appreciate the possibilities.

This parabular moment changed me from trailing spouse to prevailing spouse, one determined to make the most of my “confinement.”

At that moment, I realized that contentment is a choice and that purpose comes from giving in to God’s will. From then on, the remainder of our six years in mission service were my most fulfilling years. I was drawn into a strong, intimate relationship with God. Today I am a better person, a better Christian, because of those years.

Three things helped this prevailing spouse create a positive Christian presence and influence, not just on campus and in the hospital but in the community and country we served.

  1. Identifying unexpressed and unfilled needs: I began observing our community from a more strategic perspective, searching for needs that went beyond the everyday operations of our hospital and exploring ways that we could positively impact the well-being of the community. With my new attitude, I helped start many unique projects, such as a palliative care center, satellite clinics in remote areas, an underground Adventist homeschool (when it was illegal to proselytize), and the first Alcoholics Anonymous support group in our town. I even helped purchase two cows to provide milk for local children. When I stopped focusing on personal losses and circumstances and started looking for ways to serve, God provided in abundance!
  2. Building relationships: Not confined to a particular office or role, I had the advantage of mingling with and getting to know a lot of people. I also quickly discovered that every new relationship almost always played a providential role at some point in the future. For example, when a family lost on their walk found themselves at our compound gate, I had the time not only to help them find their way back but also to invite them in for a cup of tea — something I may not have been able to do if I had had job that kept me busy at my desk. What I did not know at that time was that the family was one of the wealthiest in the United States. They became our friends and later funded a new nursing school on our campus. This was just one of many serendipitous encounters that would never have happened had I not been exactly where I was, doing whatever I was asked to do.
  3. Learning new skills: Puttering around doing trivial tasks, I listened to audiobooks, TED Talks, and workshops, learning new things that I’d never had time for before. And God brought me opportunities to practice what I was learning. Marketing, project management, and public relations are skills I developed as a prevailing missionary spouse. And sure enough, there were many chances to practice these new skills. The most exciting opportunity was organizing the country’s first international marathon, with Toyota as the sponsor. The event was covered by the BBC, the Associated Press, and the Adventist Review. Those new skills and experiences changed my career path completely, bringing with it some amazing adventures.

The change from trailing spouse in despair to prevailing spouse with determination was a pivotal period of my life. It marks the before and after mission service version of myself — the new, improved me is a far better representation of God’s love and my faith in Him.

What about you?

Have you been a trailing spouse?  What did you find the most challenging part?  

Share your thoughts in the comments below

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Trailing Spouse”

  1. Love these insights! As the wife of a church worker who is called from place to place, and a homeschooling mother but with a PhD, I often felt like this. As if my skills were being wasted and my life being useless. But as the years have passed, God has shown me that raising my kids is part of my mission work. Yet He has also given me so many other jobs to do that furthered my career while allowing me to still stay at home. He is so wise! If I had chosen my own way I doubt my life could have been as wonderful as it is now.

    1. Isn’t it wonderful to realize that nothing of ours is wasted by God?!—not our education, our past experiences, not even our dreams. We just need to trust in the providential reconfiguration of all that we are and all that we have done.

      Your testimony says so much about the need to be content is the here-and-now and the importance of not second-guessing what could have been (which is easier said than done, right? haha!).

      Blessings on your life journey with God.

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