Speaker. Teacher. Imagineer. Storyteller. Wife. Mom. Idea Cultivator.
Recently, I heard “no” three times in two weeks. Three different people, three different situations. The no’s came with mighty disclaimers of how great I am, how fantastic my work is, how needed my ministry is. But, they were still no’s. Ouch.
Sometimes, I feel like my dreams are dying.
It can feel terribly sad to bury a dream. Even in the midst of the emotion, I am realizing that it’s not all together a bad thing to let go of things for which we’ve really hoped. Today, as I was driving home and processing it all (for probably the 100th time), it occurred to me: I am not alone in feeling this. Some of you who are reading this blog today feel like you could have just written these words, don’t you? The truth is, all of us bury dreams sometimes.
All of us.
So, God gave me a powerful image today as I prayed through the sadness of letting go of pieces of what I’ve hoped would come to pass. The image hinges on this verse:
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” Ephesians 3:20-21
This past week, I heard a great sermon on the parable of the mustard seed, and I was reminded how God makes big things out of little things. So, today, when I told God that I felt like I was burying my dreams, the parable of the mustard seed came back to me.
And I began to wonder, what if my dream is the little thing? What if the dreams of humanity are really small, like those little mustard seeds?
If, in fact, God plans to do exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or imagine, wouldn’t it make sense that we can bury our own dreams, confident of God’s plans to bring something that we couldn’t even imagine?
I am preaching to myself today. Don’t we all have days like that? But, since I know I’m not alone, I am also preaching to you, friend. If you feel like you’ve buried a dream, or if you’ve heard “no” more often than you’d like in the past days or weeks, I am here to encourage you.
God has a plan for your life. When you are able to let go of your own dreams and lean in to His plan, He creates far better things. Bigger things. Unimaginable things.
On a walk up a mountain road today, I stopped near a bench to take in the rumbling river. Lingering for a moment, I tried to soak it all in. On my left, my eye caught subtle movement, and I to my delight, I saw butterflies.
A group of six or seven stunningly beautiful butterflies were gathered, wings slowly flapping, resting. I wondered if I had somehow stumbled in to a butterfly sanctuary of sorts. As I leaned in to take a picture, I realized what they were resting on: a carcass. Perhaps a large bird, or some other mid-sized animal…I’m not sure. But definitely, definitely a carcass. Instinctively, I pulled back. This image stretched me. I didn’t expect to see the butterflies resting on bones.
And then I thought – isn’t that just like God, to layer beauty atop brokenness? To place butterflies in all their glorious array in the midst of bones? To put exquisite life in the midst of unmistakable death? And then, to allow it to linger there?
I have no idea why these butterflies were drawn to the carcass. (I’m sure there is a scientific reason, but please don’t tell me.) I just want to linger in the tension of butterflies and bones, and to remember that God does this kind of work all around us. I want to soak in the fact that yesterday’s death often sits so close to today’s life. I want to reflect on how God has created a world that can handle both life and death, side-by-side.
I want to revel in the ways Life swallows death and…yes…today, even rests atop it.
One year ago, it was back to school around here for almost all of us. Two of my kids going to elementary, one to preschool, and me…to my second year of seminary.
If you’ve had even one kid in school, you know that in the days and weeks leading up to school, it seems the expenses never end! There are mounds of school supplies to be purchased, piles of text books for me, and activity and enrollment fees coming out of every direction…and then, there was this.
Back-to-school wardrobe assessment. My daughter checked out beautifully. Everything fit, and we had darling outfits for her. This is because an old friend often passes me clothes that fit my girl perfectly, both in style and size. It’s such a blessing! My girl was totally ready for Kindergarten.
My son, on the other hand, seemed to have grown 2 inches overnight. In every pair of jeans, he could have waded through flood waters. You get the picture. We needed new jeans.
And new shirts.
And socks. (Somehow, every time I fold laundry, I pull out a pair of holey socks. Does this happen to anyone else out there?)
Well, I figured, time to head out and do some shopping. An all new wardrobe for a kid can easily cost hundreds of dollars, you know. As I prepared mentally to outlay more cash, I got a phonecall from my mother-in-law.
“I have another bin of clothes for you from Mandy!” Mandy is the friend who passes me clothes for my sweet girl. I made arrangements to get this new bin, but secretly wondered where I’d put the clothes…my attic was swelling at the seams.
Imagine my surprise when, a day later, I popped open said bin.
I sat a tied up Target bag to the side, and sat, stunned, as I looked at a burgeoning bin of jeans and shirts…for my BOY. Size? 8 Slim. Seriously. 8 SLIM, people. Are you hearing me on this? I hadn’t voiced the need for new clothes for my son to anyone but my husband. Immediately, I was overcome with gratitude for God’s provision.
These jeans looked like they’d been never worn. Then there were shirts.
I feel the need to clarify again that we could have purchased the items for Ashton. It wasn’t a matter of not being able to do it; the cost just represented one more place we’d spend money in a month where there were many, many calls on our finances.
As I worked through the bin, I shook my head in disbelief. Everything was there that we’d need – and I would have picked these items out myself at the store. They weren’t just going to fit, they were also our style. God is in the details, you know.
Sometimes I talk to myself, and this day was no exception.
Right there, out loud, I said…“The only thing I’m going to need to buy for him is socks.”
I was still in total disbelief at this provision when I turned to leave the room, and saw the Target bag that I’d cast aside from the top of the bin. You already know what was inside that bag, don’t you?
Because God knows our needs before we even speak them, and He makes provision in ways that can raise the hair on our arms and put chills down our spine, that bag was filled with 12 pair of like new SOCKS.
So, I cried. Right then and there, I cried. Because, seriously…we could have gotten all of it. But God blessed us with jeans, pants, shirts, and yes, even socks. I didn’t have to spend time in my first month back at seminary trying to track down these items. I didn’t have to spend money buying them. He brought them…right to my door.
God is teaching me all the time about His provision for us. This time, His teaching tool was socks. And every time I fold them, I’m reminded of how He cares for His own.
“But I trust in You, O God. I say, ‘You are my God, My times are in Your hands…” -Psalm 31:14-15
Sometimes I need to be reminded that my times are in God’s hands. In those moments, I turn to this passage in Ecclesiastes, which talks about divinely appointed times for certain activities in life:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What does the worker gain from his toil?
I have seen the burden God has laid on men.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, NIV)
I think that last line is so interesting. It’s unexpected. “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Everything? Really?
It’s hard to understand how being uprooted or mourning a loss can be beautiful, especially when we are in that moment of turmoil. Looking back on several years of feeling like my life was summarized by those scattered stones, I now can see that these years have been lovely, indeed. But in the midst of it, most days didn’t feel very beautiful at all.
That’s where the trusting comes in. I am not always able to see that the seasons of life are beautiful as I walk through them, but I can say with confidence that my times -my long days, sometimes restless nights, and all the moments in between – are in God’s hands. That alone makes each dawn-to-dark lovely in it’s own right.
My moments are held by the Creator of all things beautiful. Remembering that helps me to refocus on my beautiful life.
If you think I’m an unlikely candidate for soldier, you are absolutely right. It was all because of a wild dare by my college roommate. The next thing I knew, I was in Kentucky going through ROTC’s Leadership Training Course. I was a Private Benjamin of sorts, complete with fingernails painted a stylish taupe, a neutral lip-gloss, and hair slicked back into a neat bun.
ROTC training was hard core! It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but totally worth it, even though I decided not to become an officer in the military. Over those six weeks, I learned so much about myself. I learned persistence, diligence, and how I was stronger than I ever thought. The lessons have proved invaluable in ministry life, especially.
I’m calling on all of those skills and experiences now. This morning, I realized: I’m at war. Sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it? But I’m serious. I am warring with words.
Six chapters are written in an eight chapter workbook of sorts, which is meant to help women process through miscarriage. The emotions I’m carrying now are heavier than any ruck sack I toted back then. This work weighs on me, reminding me of the importance of finishing well.
I often feel inadequate for the task, just like I often did during my summer days in Kentucky. At the ROTC training camp, we once were given a mission to rappel down a three story wall. I recall it vividly, because I looked up at the top and thought, “there is no way!”
As if my thoughts set the direction for my body, the first two times down I was unsuccessful. When I reached the bottom the second time, I remember locking eyes with the Drill Sergeant. He wasn’t mad, but I sure was. I barked in his direction, “Going again, Sir.” Before he could protest, I bounded back up three flights of stairs.
On that third descent, my feet found a surer footing as anger at failure kicked in. The adrenaline surge pushed me to complete the wall. I still remember the feeling.
These days, I’m not rappelling walls, but I often feel overwhelmed by the writing task before me. With scripture and words, I’m taking new territory in the deep woods, where the enemies of wholeness in Christ might try to hide. And right now, it feels like war.
I’m not alone on this mission. There is another foot soldier of sorts who reenters his own pain (he and his wife have experienced multiple miscarriages) to edit my words, shaping them for clarity and context. Several comrades manage the little troops while I try desperately to finish the day’s work. And, I have you.
It occurred to me today, when I realized how much is at stake here, that I might let you in on the fact that I’m warring with words to finish this book. The mission feels really hard, people. Figuratively, I’m bounding up the stairs for my third try down this “wall” of Chapter 7.
That’s why the posts here are few. Thanks for being patient with me.
Soon, I hope there will be something that many of you can hold in your hands and use to move forward; something you can offer to friends who are in need of healing from loss.
In the meanwhile, would you pray with me and for me? Specifically, please pray for words of real hope for those who are hurting, perseverance to finish, God’s strength in my weakness, and a way forward to publish this work. Thanks, friends!
I have a favorite quote from a Mary Engelbreit calendar I used years ago. I’ve always adored her whimsical artistry. One page said, “What we need is not a new landscape, but new eyes.” I’ve kept that page for years, and pull it out sometimes to revisit the thought.
I revisit it because I couldn’t agree more. The problem is, for many of us, there is uncertainty about how to find those new eyes. What helps us to see things differently? Faith? Change? Renewal? Certainly all of those play into our sense of fresh vision, but how do we tap into a new perspective, or a better lens in life?
All of us eventually face a time where we need fresh eyes. I’m there now, so I’ve been pondering what it looks like to see things in a new way. Today, I had a radical thought: maybe I need to reinvent in some areas.
That’s when I realized the I’s that could really help me move forward: Inspiration and Ideas.
Sometimes we need new I’s.
So, I’m wondering – what inspires you? Are you surrounding yourself with inspiration often enough? Do you spend time in places, with people, and doing things that bring inspiration?
Here is something that inspires me: The Black Book of Colors. My thoughtful husband picked this out as a Christmas gift for me this past year. This remarkable little book is entirely black, with raised lines that make images to help a sighted person experience colors without their eyes. The descriptive words on each page bring color to life. It helps me think differently, and for me, that is the starting point for inspiration.
Another place we need to dwell is in the fresh I of ideas. Ideas are a lifeblood for me, the more of them the better. A new idea can carry me for days. Ideas come (at least for me) from quiet time, where my mind can stop churning on the daily and engage in an empty page of possibilities.
So, I’m reinventing, and it’s a work in progress. God repeatedly makes things new. I’m following His leadership, listening to His Spirit on this. Time for inspiration and ideas. It’s time to embrace new I’s.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” -Isaiah 43:18-19