Five days from now, I’ll be somewhere in transit on my way from West Africa to the Solomon Islands. My fiancé Dean and I are beyond excited to be reunited after over six months of separation with limited communication. I admit, that is at the forefront of my mind!
But five days from today I will have also closed a 4-year chapter in West Africa, where I have worked as a single missionary since my arrival in February 2014. Dean and I are interested in coming back here as a married couple and continuing in missions work here. But only time will tell and only God knows if my departure on Sunday is a “goodbye” or “see you later.”
When I told Dean I’d marry him, many months (spanning multiple years) of spiritual discernment had preceded. I’d had to discern if God was calling me to marry Dean. I have never assumed I would, should, or could marry. I tend to believe that we should treat marriage more as a specific calling from God, rather than as a default status that most of us will eventually enter into. And so, whether or not I should ever marry, and then whether or not I should marry Dean, were causes for much wrestling with God.
Paradoxically, the fact that Dean is interested in working overseas made the decision harder for me. You see, if a man didn’t want to work overseas, the answer was easy for me – I wouldn’t marry him. And I’d carry on as a single missionary with only one person’s factors and uncontrollable circumstances (that is, my own). Barring things like my health forcing me to return to the US or getting kicked out of a country or God making it clear in some other unforeseen way that He was calling me back to the US, I’d carry on as an overseas missionary.
But a man like Dean who was open to work overseas brought a new dilemma. Being someone that I highly respect, had grown to love, and felt compatible with, Dean was someone I was very interested in marrying. And his interest in work overseas was not giving me the red light that would have otherwise kept the conversation from going further.
And yet I realized that marriage to him would inevitably open the door to new possibilities and additional sets of uncontrollable circumstances. It would open a new door to “the best and the worst.” Marrying him would obviously mean the end of my work as a single missionary, which would mean at least a temporary departure from West Africa. And after that, none of us have any guarantees. Even as Dean and I hope and plan to return overseas, possibly even to the country I’ve been working in, I knew that when I married him, I’d have to be at least willing to give that up if God chose to lead that way.
And after all, there have never been any guarantees all along. I’ve always needed to be willing to give that up if God would lead that way. I knew that the day might come even as a single missionary that God would ask me to give up overseas work as a missionary. I chose not to think about that much, and I often chose to mistakenly believe that I was more in control of staying in overseas missions since I was single and was dealing with only my own factors! But I knew deep down that God would always lead as He chose.
Thankfully, God has led in a way where I didn’t have to choose between overseas missions and marrying Dean. At least from this vantage point, God in His gracious kindness seems to have given me both. What an undeserved gift!
And so, I have sensed God’s calling to overseas work since I was a child. And now God is also calling me to marry Dean.
I’ve been spending my last couple weeks in this country in the capital city as I wrap things up – my literacy research, my relationships here, the belongings I’ve accumulated. One of the few perks of the noisy, crowded city is its location on the coast which affords long beach walks. I was recently enjoying one such walk with a dear friend and colleague. We were reflecting together on both our imminent departures. Hers comes after nearly 14 years here, living here in the capital city and mostly loving it and thriving here. Me, after 3 years (broken up) of living in the country and learning to love it because I knew God had brought me here.
She fell in love with this city and never thought she’d be leaving now. I had learned to thrive in this country, though had never fallen in love with it as she had, and I also never thought I’d be leaving now (nor certainly getting married!). And yet neither of us feels like we’re making that difficult of a move; the time is right, and we each feel in our respective situations that God has lined things up to show us that.
As we reflected together, we realized how often God graciously works that way in our lives. The change that you could only imagine with confusion and dread a few years ago, today seems normal, right, and a good next step. Sometimes what God is asking us to do today, we couldn’t have imagined accepting a few years ago. But in the interim, He has done the work in us and around us to lead and guide us and prepare us to follow. He does the necessary changing in us so that what we once would have fought and feared, we now accept when He asks us.
And we all have our unique sojourns. Sometimes what God is asking someone else to do, we can’t imagine accepting. Meanwhile, God is asking us to do something that the other person couldn’t imagine accepting.
It’s all a wondrous mystery really. Seasons change, even callings change, and God stays the same as He leads through it all.