Every Dinner Needs a Side Dish (reflections on being a trailing spouse)

by Rebecca

Every hero needs a sidekick
Every captain needs a mate
Every dinner needs a side dish
(On a slightly smaller plate)

And now we’re seeing eye to eye
It’s so great, we can agree
That Heavenly Father has chosen you and me
Just mostly me

My husband and I joke that this song from the Broadway Musical The Book of Mormon is the anthem of the trailing spouse – the person who has followed their spouse around the world without a defined role of their own. We sing this song to each other with smirks, and we laugh because there are days when it feels like it really hits the nail on the head.

While many organizations have tried to eliminate the role of the ‘trailing spouse’ by making sure that both individuals within a couple share a call and a passion for overseas work, it’s impossible to completely eradicate it. Someone within a couple will always have a more prominent or defined role.

By virtue of marrying a doctor, I often feel like the trailing spouse regardless of where I’m living. Part of that is thanks to our current family dynamic: we have two young children, and someone needs to stay home to care for them. It only makes sense that the doctor be the one to work outside the home.

Someday our kids will be older and will spend a good portion of their day in school, and the slivers of time I have now between naps and meals and housekeeping will grow into larger chunks, and I’ll be able to carve out a role for myself, using my education and giftings too. But for now, for this season, I feel very much like the trailing spouse, and here are some realizations I’ve had that will hopefully encourage you too.

Even though I moved with my family around the world to make disciples of all nations and I have yet to make one friend with someone of the majority faith here, I am daily discipling two little humans who have the potential to be kingdom builders. That’s not an insignificant role. In fact, it is a role that I need to take very seriously and throw myself into whole-heartedly. Raising these children may be the biggest kingdom contribution I will make in my lifetime.

I also remind myself this is a season. It too shall pass – and there may be days when I wish for this season back. And so, I will cherish this season, enjoy the slower pace, and spend my slivers of time alone with God and taking care of myself physically, spiritually, and emotionally. In this season, I can build a safe haven for my family and make space to be their sounding board as they process their new surroundings. I can be the steady in the storm.

Focusing on what I can do, rather than what I can’t do, also helps me to find peace in this season. I can be the encourager of the community in which I live. I can be a welcoming face and resource to new workers who arrive. I can exercise my gift of hospitality and be a peacemaker and unity builder. I can communicate well with our supporters back home. I can be faithful in the language learning I am able to do, even if it doesn’t feel like much. I can be kind and friendly to everyone I meet while running my weekly errands. When I consider all that I can do, I realize there is a lot of potential in this season of trailing.

But I also want to encourage the other trailing spouses out there to remember that just because you have the time and the skills to do something, you don’t need to do it just to fill up your calendar and tell yourself that at least you’re doing something. You’re allowed to be discerning in what you fill your days with.

I’ve been offered several opportunities of things to do. Most recently I was asked to teach French to some of the doctors’ children. Can I speak French? Yes. Would I enjoy teaching this age group? Probably not. Is this a gift I can give to members of my community? Yes. Is this how I want to spend my time? I’m not sure. It’s still a possibility that I’m considering and which boundaries I would need to put around it if I say yes to the request.

So don’t be afraid to ask for time to consider a request, and don’t feel like you can’t say ‘no.’ Busy-ness is not a virtue to be upheld. Be wise in how you fill your time.

Lastly, remember that even if you moved around the world because of your spouse’s job and you don’t have a specific job description, God brought you to this place for a purpose. Your presence isn’t just a bonus. He does have something here for you. He sees you, and He has a purpose for you

Let’s face it – the side dish is what makes the meal. We don’t eat a turkey dinner for the turkey. We eat it for the stuffing, the sweet potato casserole, the mashed potatoes, the gravy and — if you’re from the American south – the green bean casserole!

~~~~~~~~

A wife. Mother. Wordsmith. Coffee dependent. Simultaneously a world traveller and a homebody. Both an Adult TCK and an International Worker. Rebecca has a heart for the nations and to see the global community thrive wherever God has planted them.

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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