Stay table (noun): the table where missionaries without departure dates sit to eat lunch after church
Go table (noun): the table you get sent to once you have a departure date
The table analogy is a light-hearted way to explain some deep emotions and coping strategies that we have developed. Our lives as missionaries are in constant transition. People come for a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime. Those of us who are "long-term" tend to stick together so that we have some stability in our social lives. Once someone decides to leave the country, relationships start to shift as everyone prepares for emotional detaching and the "leaver" prepares for re-entry. Once you leave the stay table, you lose friendships. Whether it should work that way or not, that's how it works.
So when we thought God was calling us to move back to the US, I was terrified of leaving the stay table.
This spring, a ministry opportunity came up for Dustin that, if we pursued it, would require us to move to the US later this year. And we thought that God might be calling us to go. If I'm honest, Dustin thought God might be calling us, and although I was pretty sure He wasn't, I was willing to follow my husband's lead as he heard from God. We wrestled with the question of pursuing or not pursuing this ministry opportunity for a few weeks, and ultimately felt that God was calling us to stay here in the DR in our current ministry roles.
In the best part of my heart, my sadness over leaving the stay table reminded me of how important my community here is to me. Moving to the US would mean not being able to share the next years of our lives with my boss and coworkers, with our church family, with my students, or with our friends here in the DR. But there was more. Part of my heart takes pride in being a long-term missionary. Even though my staying here in the DR has everything to do with God's calling and nothing to do with my own ability, I get prideful about it. There is an unspoken, not-so-healthy hierarchy in the missions world, and my sin nature likes being at the stay table.
In those weeks of uncertainty, God also showed me that I was holding onto my dreams too tightly. Even my best dreams, dreams that are from God, need to be held with open hands so that I am willing to let God change them or break them. When I hold too tightly to my dreams, I close my ears to the Holy Spirit and I miss out on what God is trying to do in my heart.
I also rediscovered the power of silence in that time.While we were praying for wisdom to discern God's will, Dustin and I shared our decision with just a few mentors. Practicing silence kept us from being swayed by other people's feelings - trust me, we had enough feelings of our own and didn't need anyone else's! Practicing silence also spared those around us from the emotional turmoil of not knowing whether we would stay or go. Big decisions are for God, Dustin, and me to sort out, and silence helped us do that.
When I arrived at the point when I could say, "Ok, if God is telling you that we should go, then I believe you are listening to God, and I will go," I thought that would be it. But no. That was just the start of a minute-by-minute battle between wanting God's will, but also wanting what I wanted. It can be difficult to untangle my emotions and God's will, constantly asking whether a feeling is just a feeling or if it's God speaking to me. It's hard work to hold my feelings alongside my desire to obey God.
Finally, God reaffirmed our calling to this place, at this time, with these ministries. He renewed my joy in our daily life, my appreciation for Kids Alive, and my awareness of the privilege of serving in Caraballo. He reminded us of how much we love the cross-cultural nature of both of our jobs, and the travel and international friendships of Dustin's job. I got much-needed refreshment on how much I love New Life Church, living in Sosua, and the people we have become and get to be because we live here. As we look at what the next year holds for us, I am so thankful to be called to stay here. If God says go, we will go, and I know He will provide for our every need. But for now, we sit at the stay table, sorting through these lessons and remembering that even those weeks of uncertainty were for God's glory.