Written by Julia – a former graduate wife.
My husband, Dave, and I have been married for five years, and in that time we have lived in four different countries. The growth of our marriage, my career and our family has taken place in a different zip code, post code or Postleitzahl every year until this one, when we are finally experiencing a second year in one city. And all this for a girl from the American South, where roots are important.
In our first move abroad, while skirting the North Sea in a taxi cab from the Edinburgh Airport to The Flat I Had Not Seen, Dave praised the rolling green hills spotted with sheep and lined with stone walls, enraptured with some sort of pastoral bliss. I, on the other hand, cried. Putting thousands of miles and an ocean between us and our friends and family somehow did not have the same inspiring effect on me.
At least not at first. In between that day and this one, I have lived in places of unspeakable beauty. I have shared a running route with Eric Liddel, regularly visited splendid castles and wandered around the Black Forest. Just yesterday, I happened upon a 12th century church with a well which served as inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland – just before dinner, a fifteen minute walk from my flat. Those back home who think of living abroad as an enviable adventure are not far off.
But that’s not the whole story. While there certainly is some romance to country hopping, such transience brings with it layers of challenge, from the mundane to the profound. What on earth is the German equivalent of condensed milk? Why does it take four hours to wash a load of laundry here? Where will I work? Will my niece and nephews remember me after not seeing me for long stretches at a time? How will anyone really know me if I don’t stay long enough in one place to form genuine relationships? The questions trip over themselves at first, and transform over time from the urgent practical questions that require immediate answers, to the deeper questions about vocation and identity. Uniting them is a sense of unsettledness, of disquiet in the face of change.
Facing an uncertain future – practically a definition of time spent with a spouse who is studying – invites one to engage the unknown in the mode of trust. Each move, whether physically moving to another place or simply reaching a new season, represents another chance to show bravery. Most of the time, I feel more like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand than an eagle taking the opportunity to spread its wings and soar (can you tell I’ve been reading animal books to my nine month old?), but because of my faith, I am learning that God condescends to meet our cowardice with courage. In spite of my grumbling recalcitrance, God in his rich love chooses to give us more than we need to press on. In the end, the most lasting help against fear is not a stable income, a comfortable living situation, a routine, but the accompaniment of God himself. But the fact that courage is commanded in Scripture, rather than portrayed as the constant possession of the believer, suggests that this courage is always something to be sought and re-sought:
Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Most days I find myself living somewhere between the promise and the command, called out of fear and into trust, but struggling to meet the future without nail-biting apprehension.
Anyone else facing these difficult lessons in courage?