Elmbrook Stories

A Trailing Wife and a Tent Dweller

I’ve been spending time these past few months thinking about transition, considering the changes that God’s brought into my life - moving me out of some places, moving me into new spaces.

Early in our marriage, my husband and I made three transcontinental moves in the period of six years. I became part of the sisterhood that is known as the “trailing wife”; that is, women who move with their husbands to a foreign country due to their husband’s job. The move, though initially exciting, included many losses of friends, family, identity, career; everything that I thought was essential for me to be me was stripped away.

No one part of this was harder than the other as they were all accompanied by grief. Throughout the transitions, I tried to come to grips with who I was. Everything I was known as or was good at seemed to be left behind or lost. 

We first arrived in Waukesha on December 21 ,1995. Interestingly, there were t-shirts in the Wisconsin stores later that said, “I survived the winter of 95/96!”. I knew it was going to be cold, but coming in from a country where cold is 70F, I had no idea of how cold it was over here. Coming from 12 hours of sunshine a day, we arrived here on the shortest day of the year. Needless to say, it was depressing.

My husband’s initial assignment was for 10 months, but that kept getting extended. So for 3.5 years we lived in an extended period of transition. This is the life of a “trailing wife”. For me, though, it felt as if God had set me aside and put me in a 3.5 year time out. In my little puddle of self-pity, longing to get on with my life and dreams that were put on an interminable pause, I missed seeing God at work. He surrounded us with a church family here at Elmbrook. He sent a sweet friend, Lori, who drove me and my two little boys places until I could get my driver’s license, and she graciously showed me the love of God that I so often couldn’t see.

One day, as I grumbled about my circumstances to my dad in India, he called me out. “Shanthini,” he said firmly, “the wilderness is a place of transition. Everyone that God uses He takes through the wilderness. Don’t miss the lessons of the wilderness.” Lessons? In the wilderness? That got my attention. I began to read through the book of Exodus about the people of Israel and their journey through the wilderness. God met me there. “I’ve called you to be a tent dweller, and the tent dweller moves wherever my cloud tells her to move,” he said. As I read about the children of Israel, I could see my own stubbornness and resistance to change in their story but I also saw the lessons. God was in their midst in the wilderness and they were never alone. His presence was always with them. God wanted His people to know Him, His love for them and to live in dependence on that truth. They were always provided for and were always protected… they were His. Knowing Him and depending on Him in the wilderness without the distractions of the settled life meant that I could hear Him better, move when He wanted me to move and stay when He wanted me to stay.

I was sorry and ashamed that it took me 3.5 years to learn those lessons, yet, I’m glad that it didn’t take longer! After confessing and asking God for forgiveness (and asking my husband for forgiveness as I had made his life miserable; after all, it was his job that brought us here!), God surprised us and took us back to India. Eighteen months later, He asked us to move back to Wisconsin, so we packed up and moved again. It wasn’t hard this time because the lessons were still fresh and I was learning to move where His cloud moved.

My transitions now are not geographic. Instead they’re in the realms of position as well as the things that have occupied my life and time for the past few years. I feel I’ve circled back to the foot of the mountain where I started 20 years ago. The years, however, have taught me that I belong to Him. He is always with me, and His steadfast love never fails. Meanwhile, I get to discover Him every day as I carry my own tent, trailing after Him.