He was big, strong, and angry. And for whatever reason, he was chasing me. Chasing us, actually. I held one of my nephews in my arms and tried to keep from stumbling along the uneven ground while herding two more toward the safety that I hoped we would find somewhere in the trees ahead.
But I couldn’t shake him. I could hear the heavy falling of his footsteps right behind me, scaring me on. I clutched Silas tightly and put my head down to try to avoid a low hanging limb. Then all went black.
I woke up exhausted. The pounding of footsteps had been replaced with the soft pounding of my heart as it sunk in that the man was gone, my nephews were safe, and it was still a good 20 minutes or so before I needed to get out of bed to start my day.
As I lay in the dark, I remembered an observation Curtis had recently made—“Why do we talk about dreams coming true like it’s a good thing? When was the last time you had a dream that you hoped would come true?”
None came to mind.
Most of my dreams—that I remember anyway—have just enough real life in them that it takes me a minute or two after I wake up to convince myself that they didn’t happen. But when I do, my thought is always—Oh, good!
But we still talk about dreams. Chasing them. Following them. Believing in them.
Taken on the authority of Cinderella (the first movie I ever saw)—a dream is a wish your heart makes. Or perhaps, what we really mean, that your mind makes up.
But, I used to believe in them. Sort of.
Ten years ago today I said goodbye to my parents and boarded a one-way flight for Charleston. I had no cell phone then. In fact, I didn’t have a lot of stuff period. What I took with me was in the two suitcases that were free to check.
“Fasten your seat belt,” the flight attendant growled at me. But when I turned from the window and he saw the tears in my eyes, his voice softened considerably. “You ok?” I nodded, but I was too choked up to speak. Life would change for me that day. That was about all I knew.
I remember when Curtis interviewed me and he asked me about what I wanted to do with my life, I told him I would probably work 3-5 years. But when he asked me specifically what I wanted to do I thought about and responded, almost like it came from someone else, “the next right thing.”
I believed this was the next right thing.
Ten years ago today, I was given a new office and a new extension. I was put in charge of the computer “system” at the Bostic Law Firm (compliments of my prior boss who mistakenly told Curtis that I was a computer genius). Ten years ago, I was trained the way Curtis still trains people—give them a list and tell them to go do it. Figure it out. Sink or swim. I still have that initial “to do” list. On it are the words—“correct deficiencies in computer system and maintain/improve.” I still can’t cross that off.
Ten years ago tonight, my new church was vandalized and burned. Our pastorless congregation would meet in the fellowship hall for more than a year after that as we saved money to renovate. But the people at CHBC were kind and welcoming and it wasn’t long before Charleston would feel like home…plus 100% humidity.
Ten years ago, I had a dream that I was trying to strategically weave into a plan.
I wanted to work in the legal field long enough to feel like the time, energy, and money I had invested in law school was worthwhile; but still get married young enough to have ten kids—maybe twelve. Then, as a family, we would win the world for Christ. That was the dream, more or less.
The “plan” part came in because I knew that dreams alone don’t generally turn out the way you want them to…if at all. I didn’t trust my dream to Walt Disney or some mythical fairy godmother.
At the same time, it couldn’t be entirely a plan, because there were pieces of it I couldn’t control. Some things you just can’t make happen. But you can hope that God gave you a dream because it’s part of His plan.
Ten years ago, it seemed like my dream was coming true.
But it didn’t.
I’ve lived ten very good, very full years in Charleston. No complaints. It’s hard to measure exactly what ten years does to you. I have less courage now, but more confidence. Less drive, but more knowledge and skill. Less frugality, but more resourcefulness. Less stubbornness, more flexibility. Less passion, more maturity. Some things are even harder to measure in years… do I have more or less patience than I did then? I don’t know. More or less compassion? I’m not sure.
One thing is for sure, though, it didn’t turn out quite like I dreamed it would. Consequently, I find myself giving dreams mixed reviews. There is part of me that wants to say, Dreams? Bah, Humbug.
Dreams are fiction.
The fact is that true dreams—what we have when we sleep—are usually a lot of painful torture minus the happy ending. Conversely, the stereotypical “American Dream” is the happy endings minus the painful torture.
And the life the God plans for us is neither. It’s to walk humbly with our God. It’s to be conformed to His image. It’s every day grace. It’s the next right thing.
I’ve thought of a lot of happy endings for God, and so far, He hasn’t been interested in any of them. Because He is more interested in His glory. More desirous of seeing me passionate about the gospel. More inclined to drive me to do the next right thing.
As John Piper reminds us, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Not ourselves. Not our dreams. Not our plans. In Him.
It is foolish for me to conclude that my plan is the best when I lack the ability to execute the plan. It is a waste for me to assume that my dreams should provide the direction for my life when my imagination is so small that I can’t even think God’s thoughts after Him.
In the shallowness of our human nature, we long to see our story unfold by building to a climax, then resolve with twist of predictable surprise. All is well that ends well—and we can shut the book with a satisfied sigh because everything happened the way that it should have in the end.
But God, as the author, may review our outlines, may consider our dreams, but in the end will scrap our work of fiction and glorify Himself with His own work of faith. “I got this. Do the next right thing.”
Ten years from now and ten thousand years from now, out dreams will probably be no more than a distant memory. But if we walk in faith we will still be able to close the book in satisfaction. That was a good story. I didn’t see it coming, but everything happened the way it should have in the end.