dreams


Life is full of times where we find ourselves in the waiting room.  Sitting in a doctor’s office because you or someone you love is sick, at the mechanic because your car needs to be fixed, at the dentist because you have to, or in a business office for a job interview. Like it or not, times of waiting just find us. Yet what I am beginning to realize is that in life, the greatest times of waiting, often happen outside of the waiting room.

As I shared on Monday, where I used to have a “plan” for my life, I now have questions and the unknown. For ten months now I have been in a time of waiting.  And though different than any experience I have had before, it is a quiet and persistent struggle, I am familiar with.

Six years ago, about Christmas time, I told God that I couldn’t do another year single.  I was living far from where I grew up, far from my friends, and far from my family. I had never really had a long term relationship, which was getting old, and I didn’t want to be alone anymore. So I prayed that God would bless me with a husband (and particularly that my now husband would be that man!). Broken and lonely, I prayed boldly, and with everything I had.

(This is the part of the story where I would love to tell you that I woke up the next morning, and my future husband was knocking on my door–but he wasn’t).

A month after I prayed, I sensed God say “not yet.”  Six months later, I felt Him say “It’s going to be another year.” Five months after that, I entered into one of the most darkest, loneliest times I have ever known.

Then, a few months later, I thought I was coming out on the other side. I started dating someone who was really great, but soon broke it off because I just sensed he wasn’t “the one.”  Another whole year went by–a year of waiting, of my dad getting cancer, and of deciding to get counseling. It was a year that felt like everything and nothing was happening at the same time.

Until finally, a little over two years after my bold prayer, I found myself on a hike in early February, with the man I had prayed would be my husband. Ten months later, we were engaged.

I obviously skipped some details from those two years because it would be too much to share here. But I can tell you that what I learned is that God was using everything that happened in between to stretch and grow me in so many important ways. If I hadn’t gone through that time of waiting, I wouldn’t have been ready for my marriage. In fact, those years were part of God’s way of answering my prayer for a husband in the fullest sense. It was as if He was saying, “yes, I will bless you, but when you are ready for it.”

Today, as I wait once again, I am trying to hold on to the fact that it is in our times of being in Life’s waiting room that God is doing the most important work of preparing us for what is next.

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One of the websites I am reading the most lately is She Loves Magazine. Today they are hosting a synchroblog on times of awakening, and I thought it would be fun to join in, and at the same time, share a little bit more of how this blog has come into being.

I have never fully known the feeling one gets when they see a baby and everything goes gushy inside. I have never experienced the emotions that fill ones body, when the little white stick says “pregnant.” And I have yet to hold a new born that is my own, smell his/her head, and wonder “can I do this?”

I have, however, sat in the audience of a painfully-out-of-tune middle school Christmas pageant, holding my breath, as my student performed his solo.  I have anxiously waited for a student to show up on a Sunday morning to tell me if they made the team, survived math class this week, or got a part in the school play.  I have spent hundreds of hours leading Jr. High girls’ small group bible studies, praying for those light-bulb moments when one would say “God cares about that stuff? He cares about me?

My heart has filled to overflowing, when as a single youth pastor, my hand-me-down dinning room table fit fifteen girls around it for ice cream sundaes and Apples to Apples.  And I have been over-the-moon excited when after they start college, those same girls come back and say “remember how you always told us…”

But now, after seven years of full-time “my-heart-has-adopted-hundreds-of-teenagers” ministry, the past year has felt like God took a sharp turn and my life is heading in a new direction.

At first, when I resigned from my ministry position nine months ago (after a year of struggling to free my heart), I felt like “Ok, God. I can take some time off. I can pursue writing–but then you will take me back, right? Someday, I will go back to youth ministry?”

But He was quiet. He let me grieve the loss of the kids and volunteers I loved. He let me wrestle with my “what ifs.”  And then about a month ago, as I was baking in my kitchen, He softly impressed on my heart that I won’t be going back into youth ministry, at least not in that form.

A new grieving began, yet this time it was different.  I felt God was re-writing my story–making it completely different than the picture in my head. I was confused, and I wanted to be angry with Him. Then I realized, wait, God doesn’t “re-write.” He doesn’t change his mind as to where our stories will take us. He always has a plan, and it is us who try to re-write, re-direct our paths.

For the past eight years, I was so sure I was living one story when in reality I was living a different one. I was really on a journey that led me to a greater knowledge of myself and God’s love for me. Part of my story was being in youth ministry–meeting incredible people, traveling all over the world, making some amazing friends and meeting my awesome husband. But youth ministry wasn’t my whole story.

I thought I would love teenagers forever through church ministry–but I am finding God’s path is taking me in a different direction.  He has given me this season of grieving, yet in the midst of emotions that sometimes feel like death, new life has begun to spring up. 

And one of those new shoots is this blog. God is breaking and expanding my heart for our plight as women.  He is revealing to me His love for us, the women of this earth, and impressing on me a need to write; similar, I imagine, to the burning Jeremiah must have felt in his bones.

I am not sure what is in store for this blog or where this path that God has me on is going to lead.

“I am lost.” I told my friend a few weeks ago. Then two days later, in the midst of worshipping at a Hillsong concert, I felt God speak to my heart:

“You are not lost, I know exactly where you are. Even though you do not know what is ahead, I do.”

I have always been the type of person who wants to plan everything out–and know “the plan.” He is teaching me to trust His path.

Where have you felt like your life is being “re-written?”

Where have you felt the loss of a dream?

Do you know that wherever you are at, God knows exactly where you are?

 

A week ago today, after three years of training to swim from Florida to Cuba, Diana Nyad told reporters:

“I’m not going to get that moment I dreamed of for so long.” 

After swimming 48 miles, she was pulled out of the ocean by her operations director because of dangerous thunderstorms, and severe jellyfish stings on her mouth and face. At first, she was upset for being pulled out, but as she and her team talked about it, it became clear that this was a feat, she was not going to conquer.

Initially, when she was pulled from the water, she said:

“But I have plenty left in me and I want to go on.”

Isn’t that how we all feel when a dream we have worked for, for so long, all of a sudden feels pulled from our grasp?  Even though all signs point otherwise, we so strongly feel “I can do this”–that coming to a point of acceptance is almost an out-of-body experience.  We’ve worked, trained even, for that moment when we would be able to see the finish line and be able to say on some level “I have arrived.” But in one moment, or through a series of moments, we watch as our dream slips away.

When Nyad was interview on the Today Show, a day later, the sixty-three-year-old swimmer was much more optimistic.  She said she didn’t regret one part of her journey and that it was magnificent. Though it was her fifth time trying, very few of us would be able to so gracefully back down so quickly. Some of us, like Nyad can say we had a great team, a magnificent journey, and we wouldn’t change a thing.  Others of us though, are left with a long list of “what ifs?”

“What if I had done…? Would I have my dream?” 

“What if I hadn’t said…?”

“What if I had…?”

Sadly, no matter how many times we go over and over the “what ifs?” our dream is still lost. Its still over. And when we finally realize that and stop questioning our path, we grieve.

Last post, I shared that I have recently been coming to terms with the death of a dream that I have had for a long time.  Eight years ago, this weekend, I moved five states away from my family and everything I knew, because I felt it was where God was leading me, and I thought that I was taking the path that would lead to that dream.  Elements of my dream existed in what I did for seven years, but never did I reach the point, I saw in my mind, as the “finish line.”

Nine months ago, I left what I thought was the path to my dream, but not without thinking that someday, I would return. Then, over the past couple of weeks, I have begun to realize, I wasn’t really on the path I thought I was on for all of those years.

I wasn’t on the path to my dream.

I was really on the path that lead me to a greater knowledge of myself and God’s love for me. I was on a path in which I got to meet incredible people and literally travel all over the world. It was the way I met some amazing friends and my awesome husband. It truly was the path I needed to be on. To me, it looked like the way to my dream, but it wasn’t, and I am beginning to feel thankful for that.  I wasn’t on my path, but I was on God’s path–and I know that because so much good has happened in this place. (Some painfully bad things too, but mostly good).

I am now (finally) in the place between grieving and acceptance.

And I am still on this path, just waiting to know where the next turn will take me.

What dreams of yours feel like they are dead or dying?

Whose path are you on, and where is it leading you?

My first boyfriend was way older than he should have been. Our relationship was the product of our school system including the 8th grade into the High School; he was a senior and I was an 8th grader.  Yes, there have been scarier age differences–but after working with Jr. High and High School students for over a decade–let me tell you, my mom was right to be concerned. She only let us continue “going out” because he didn’t have a license, which meant whatever actual “going out” we were going to do, would have to include her (go mom!).

Alas, my journey with the “senior boyfriend,”  however, was cut short, just over two months later, when I couldn’t handle his flirting with other girls any longer. So I “dumped” him at a youth retreat.  Red faced, he went back to playing some crazy game, and I ran teary-eyed to the bathroom, my girlfriends in tow. By the end of the night, he was giving me sad looks across the room, and I was feeling guilty for breaking his heart.

The retreat ended, and back at school my feminist gym teacher gave me a high-five for breaking up with “the senior.” The only problem was that I hadn’t really broken up with him.  I told him the usual “let’s just be friends” and instead of being a turn-off, he took it as a way back into my heart.  Every day for a month after the “break-up,” he would come to my locker and pass me notes between class, begging me to take him back. My 8th grade heart still cared about him, but I knew we didn’t have “a future.”

Finally, one day I came home from school upset.  My mom knew I was still holding on to the relationship and I was having a hard time letting go. She made a cup of tea while I told her the “woes” of my day which mainly involved “the senior.”  I said “Mom, I feel so bad but I know I can’t go out with him again.”

We sat down at the dinning room table, and over her steaming cup of tea, she told me something that I am still learning now, seventeen years later. She said:

Melissa, what happens when you take a handful of sand and hold on to it really tightly?”

“All the sand runs through your fingers.”  Growing up near the ocean, I knew this.

“In life you have to hold people and the things you really want, as if they are sand,” she said. “You have to hold them with an open hand, and allow God to either put them in you hand or take them out in His timing.  If you hold on too tightly, you will surely lose them–but if you keep your hands open and trust God, He will give you what is truly best for you.”

I had to let go of “the senior.” I had to trust that God’s plan was good. I had to trust that by letting go of my first boyfriend, I was opening myself up to new opportunities and relationships in my future. And, as I was only fourteen, my mom was very right!

But now, so many years later, my mom is still right.

Recently I have been reminded to think of the things in my life as sand.  I have found myself over the past two weeks, wrestling and holding on tightly to a dream that I have had since I was eighteen. A dream, I am finding, that is just not meant to be.

In a culture where we were raised to believe that you can do anything, and nothing is impossible if you try, this is hard to accept.

But what if our dreams for ourselves aren’t the right dreams? 

Maybe they are good dreams–even ones that help people–but what if they aren’t the best dreams? The dreams that would truly fulfill how we are wired and gifted?

What if, by holding on to a lesser dream, I am losing both it and the dream I am meant to go after?

I have been trying to picture my dream as if it is sand in the palm of my hand. Can I release it?  Can I trust that God will give me a new dream? the best dream?