Hold Fast to Your Dreams

How did I get here so quick?

Have you ever gotten to a point in life when you asked yourself this question?

It began to dawn on me that I had reached some turning point in my life when little old men at church started calling me “sir.”

As I look back on the past decade or so…

  • Instead locating all of the emergency exits in the building, I”m beginning to have a working knowledge of where all the bathrooms are
  • I realize that I know too much information about my pharmacist
  • For a while there, I was using handicap parking spots. It became a whole new way of managing parking strategy

I joke that every night as I lay my head on the pillow, it seems like I was just there a few minutes ago – time is rushing by so fast. I always thought getting old would take longer!

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” ― Andy Warhol

There are so many life experiences happening now that I sort of expected, like being a grandparent, taking care of aging parents, and new stages at work. There are also many life twists and turns that came out of nowhere like fighting cancer with my wife.

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” ― Gabriel García Márquez

There are days on autopilot with too much disengagement. Other days when there is just one big crisis to manage. Dreaming too often gets pushed to a very far corner. I have too many old bags of dreams from long ago that smell like mildewed laundry. I know this not the right way to live.

“A being who, as I grew older, lost imagination, emotion, a type of intelligence, a way of feeling things – all that which, while it made me sorry, did not horrify me. But what am I experiencing when I read myself as if I were someone else? On which bank am I standing if I see myself in the depths?”Fernando Pessoa

The dreams of yesterday, of my youth, don’t work now.

That’s not how dreams are supposed to work. They are real, they are work, they breathe life into each new day. But dreams need to be alive, growing and evolving with life as it is lived and changing. Today will never work if you won’t turn loose of those dreams of your yesterday and don’t let them become newly built dreams of today.

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.” ― Salvador Dali

Whatever comes at you from around the next corner, as your life changes, as you hit the next stage/age of your life – keep your dreams alive by letting them breathe. Your choice isn’t to let your dreams of youth die because they don’t fit today. Your choice is to let your dreams out of the prison of your past. Let them emerge and take up residence in your life today. Let your dreams come to life again right now. It’s not so much the substance of the dream, but the act of dreaming that keeps us going on into the night. 

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
― Langston Hughes

 

Two Paths to Walk

I think there are two paths that each of us walk. I think we travel on these at the same time but are often unaware of one while we focus the greater part of our attention and effort on the other.

  1. We are all going about the daily busy-ness of our lives.
  2. At the very same moments, each one of us is traveling toward our end of life here on earth.

Americans now experience so much control over our lives (the Vikings aren’t going to come and plunder our village in the Spring) and we have such marvelous health and healthcare – we don’t have to face end-of-life issues as our ancestors once did (fearing the plague each time a stranger visited).

It is possible to become so caught up in the here and now, and our control over it, that we lose our perspective on the eternal. Even though you’ve heard that topic a hundred ways a hundred times before, it’s still worth thinking about. So that when you are sitting there in the middle of the disaster it’s possible to begin to see things finally as they really are. I’m reminded of the story of Lot. He faced a number of terrible tragedies.

While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”  – Job 1:18-19

How does anyone move on after hearing this horrible news? But when it happens there’s no escape, no denial, no easy fix. It’s possible that something dreadful will happen in this lifetime to you or someone you love. During disasters, people start thinking about eternity. But why wait for the roof to fall in to awaken to these two paths you’re walking right now? Why not look for opportunities now, when you’re not in panic mode, to start putting this present life into a much larger perspective.

Remember…

  1.  None of us are in as much control as we and our bank account think we are.
  2. A walk with God that’s only (barely) a hobby will not carry anyone far when the worst news arrives.
  3. God’s concerns for us are usually different than our own self concerns – that can be alarming.
  4. When your life falls apart – for whatever reason – you will hear all sorts of religious explanations from well meaning loved ones (and strangers). Don’t let this common phenomenon change your own search for answers from God himself.
  5. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, just the presence of God is all we really need to take us down whatever road we’re forced to walk.

“Beware of trying to patch up a present refusal to walk in the light by recalling past experiences when you did walk in the light.” ― Oswald Chambers

John Muir (1838-1914) was one of America’s great naturalists. He co-founded the Sierra Club and was instrumental in helping to establish many of our national parks. I like this quote about how to walk through the world while remaining conscious of where you are really going and what’s happening all around you. Is this what we are now calling being mindful?

“I don’t like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not ‘hike!’ Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.” ― John Muir

What would it take for you to saunter through your day tomorrow, or the rest of your life?

 

Runnin’ Down A Dream

The voice on the radio today said that Tom Petty would have been 69 years old tomorrow (if he had lived). He died in 2017. One of the concerts I never attended and wished I had.

Mike Campbell, who was in Tom Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers, is now playing with Fleetwood Mac. I got to see them (and him). Did a great performance, even a Tom Petty tribute. Remember Stevie and Tom’s duet, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around?

One of Petty’s great songs is Runnin’ Down a Dream

I always thought this was a good theme song for my life. Runnin’ down a dream that never would come to me. My dream was a mixture of what I thought God wanted, my own inner inadequacies and the expectations of the world in which I grew up. A lot of stops and starts along the way. Mostly running, not much catching.

There’s a silly activity they play out during football games in Waco. They get someone, put ’em in a helmet, lead ’em to the end zone and launch footballs at them from a cannon of some sort. The poor character has to try and catch three, for a $100 each. I think they must corral cross-eyed people who’ve never held a football before to play the game. It’s also probably much harder than it looks.  Lot’s of misses.

When I look back, that’s what my runnin’ down a dream has looked like. A lot of fumbles along the way. Maybe it has been harder than it looks?

There’s a line in the lyrics, “workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads”  That’s why I identify so well with the song. My dream has been such a mystery to me (to everyone else as well, I’m sure!). But for some reason I have kept chasing it. What else was I going to do? It has frustrated me, broken my heart, filled me with joy and kept me guessing. As I look back, I am nothing but confused about the strange path this chase has taken me (and my love) on.

Runnin’ down my dream was hard on everyone else. My wife loved me very hard. It was very hard to love me. She really worked hard at it. I can’t wait to count the stars in her crown for having to endure me. I’m glad we have eternity – it’s going to take me some time!

I’m at a crossroads again. Time to think about that dream and where I’m heading next. Where are you right now in your dreamin’? What metaphor seems to fit?

  • Treadmill
  • A game of Monopoly
  • Lost in the dark woods
  • Mountain to climb
  • Quicksand
  • Another mile in the marathon
  • Hide and Seek

The dream that God gives to each of us, the call he puts on our lives, isn’t going to go away. It’s not even a mystery to him. He’s going to remain faithful to you. Your life and every situation you find yourself in isn’t God. Read that again. Don’t get mixed up, don’t lose your faith in the outcome. Keep runnin’, keep dreaming. As long as it takes to find.

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” ― T.E. Lawrence (this is the Lawrence of Arabia guy)

Paul wrote this to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 15:10), I post-it noted it near my desk at work. I think it’s a wonderful reminder to me as I keep runnin’ down whatever dreams are left.

“…and His grace toward me was not in vain.”

 

 

Is This a Good Time To Pray?

“Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.” ― Fyodor Dostoevsky

I keep bumping into people these days who are suffering. Or at least, for some reason, our conversations seem to turn to this subject. Probably because I’m not doing a good job of hiding my grief. I’m working on it.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ― C.S. Lewis,

The truth is that we are all going to experience times of suffering. Even very religious people. Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton has a quote in his book Half-Truths that makes a lot of sense:

  • Suffering is not God’s desire for us, but it occurs in the process of life.
  • Suffering is not given to teach us something, but through it we may learn.
  • Suffering is not given to punish us, but sometimes it is the consequence of our sin or poor judgement.
  • Suffering does not occur because our faith is weak, but through it our faith may be strengthened.
  • God does not depend upon human suffering to achieve his purposes, but sometimes through suffering his purposes are achieved.
  • Suffering can either destroy us or it can add meaning to our life.

This helps me as I frame my own experiences and try to help others with their own hard road.

“It is of great importance, when we begin to practise prayer, not to let ourselves be frightened by our own thoughts.” ― Santa Teresa of Avila

When on the topic of suffering it always leads to more conversations about praying.  American Christianity has too often reduced praying into something small and practical, like a pocket knife. You only use it every now and then and after a while you even come to forget it’s even there in your pocket.

Praying gets reduced to something that’s too small when we only think of it as a means to get our problems solved. Maybe it’s not a pocket knife but a fire extinguisher? Here’s a third metaphor I often use for prayer, a drive up fast food window. When we pray, we place our order, do our duty (pay at the first window), and expect results at the second window. Sounds very transactional, very practical. I’m not sure that’s really the point of praying.

Why do think God wants us to talk with him?

We studied religion in one of my classes this past summer. Sociologist Christian Smith has formulated a definition that fits all religion:

Humans are religious because they hope for superhuman powers to help them realize human goods and avoid bads, especially to grant them blessings, prevent misfortunes and aid them in crises; and because they wish to enjoy the various forms of identity, community, meaning, expression, aesthetics, ecstasy, control and legitimacy that practicing religions offer.

What I think sets Christianity apart from religion is that its central focus is about a relationship between God and humankind. Certainly all the other elements of Smith’s definition are a part of Christianity, but the relationship seems essential. The story of Adam and Eve paints us a picture of this first relationship. Of course at this point they’ve been eating on an apple…

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”  (Genesis 3:8-9) 

Could it be that at the heart of our prayers is an answer to that very question? Is God desiring to walk with you and asking “where are you right now?”

I think we pray mostly out of our broken experience. If we will keep on praying, just like working on any relationship, we will build something, something essential. There is much that praying can accomplish. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Praying can help you turn loose of problems. When you pray and share them with God, you are no longer the only one to carry each one. As you talk through what’s heavy on your heart, you will notice that each problem seems to loosen and even grow more distant.

    “One way to get high blood pressure is to go mountain climbing over molehills.” ― Earl Wilson

  2. Praying can remind you of God’s eternal presence. He doesn’t go to sleep or ignore you to tend to other business. The conversation that is prayer can start and stop at any time. He is present during all of  your feelings as well. Your mood is not going to chase him away.

    “Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer.” ― J.C. Ryle

  3. Praying can help you to care and love others more. Remember, your own problems begin to fade as you pray, you then have room to attend to others. When you pray you can be strengthened and encouraged to help with the burdens of others.  You can even be used by God as an answer to prayers.
  4. Praying enables you to process what’s happening right now and in the past. Don’t keep it all bottled up inside. Talk it out with God. Let your feelings and frustrations even your fears flow out in a stream of conversation with God. Believe that you are being heard. Believe that God desires to get involved in your life, right now. That includes all the baggage you’ve been hauling around.
  5. Praying helps you to grow up in your perspective. It really isn’t all about you. But sometimes, when everything is crashing in, it can seem like it. Praying, over time, can help to remind you of the long road you’ve already marched on. This long view will enable you to keep life in perspective, to remind you that this world is not your home and that what’s eternal is what really matters.

    “Praying demands that you take to the road again and again, leaving your house and looking forward to a new land for yourself and your [fellow human]. This is why praying demands poverty, that is, the readiness to live a life in which you have nothing to lose so that you always begin afresh.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

  6. Praying, over time, builds a long term relationship with God. Any relationship that matters takes time. You know this. How are you supposed to hear back from God in this sort of relationship? Listen to the Holy Spirit that resides in all believers. Read your Bible all the way, all the time. Open your eyes to signs and wonders that might be happening under your nose.
  7. This one is important. You don’t have to be religious to pray. You don’t have to be in a church, have all your sins confessed, be in total agreement with God or quit all your nasty habits first. Praying can happen right this second no matter who, what, where or how you are. God is already listening.

    My favorite lesson about this truth is when Jesus is having a break the rules conversation with a Samaritan woman at the water well. She is not at all on the right track in her life but the Son of God is right there in front of her offering her more than she knows she wants… Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”  (John 4:10)

“Pray the largest prayers. You cannot think a prayer so large that God, in answering it, will not wish you had made it larger. Pray not for crutches but for wings.” ― Phillips Brooks

How Many Hairs Do You Have Left?

I had another blog idea driving in to work today, but I forgot it five minutes later, once I got to the computer. My friend called and I answered the phone. That in itself is a miracle. We came up with this as an alternative blog. It’s probably a much better idea!

“Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I watched a film the other evening about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. They had to trace back not just the definition of each word but the word’s origins. They began in 1858 and didn’t really finish until 1928! Have you ever used the word “fret”? It’s another way to describe worry. It’s origin is found in the words like devour. We sometimes say that “He was eaten up with worry.”

Your prayer isn’t supposed to be “take away all my problems!” That’s not going to happen. Welcome to planet earth. Welcome to the land of death and decay.

My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows. I am withering away like grass. – Psalm 102:11

No, your prayer ought to be, take away my worries. I know who holds my hand. 

Jesus sending out his disciples ahead of him said:

“What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

  1. They may have been sitting at the Temple looking at the cages of animals for sale to be used for sacrifice. The cheapest animal to buy was a bird. Yet God knew all about their lives.
  2. God is so intimately acquainted with each of us, he’s even keeping up with our diminishing hair supply.
  3. What’s the big lesson here? Don’t be afraid. You are of great value to God.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles…by the ears, by the heels, or any  way you can manage it.” ― Mark Twain

These days, while putting my new life in order, I’m often going to bed at night with a full brain still running around with things to do and issues to resolve. Mostly about the basics of living. While giving his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed worry and the cares of life:

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  – Matthew 6:31-33

I don’t think he means not to address and manage the issues of living. I think he means not to worry and let these consume your life, moment by moment. Not to let your thinking about living become worries that dominate. We all need to figure out the balance, keeping our mind on riding that bike while simultaneously pushing the fear of falling out the window.

So, I’ve been asking people who want to pray for me to for this very thing, ask God to help me not worry while I’m working hard at reordering my life. 

The big lesson is: take care of your business, do it in thoughtful ways, always put people ahead of yourself, but don’t worry – even about the most important and essential things. Put these in God’s hands and then go about the work he has left for you to do.

“It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains!” ― Alice Caldwell Rice

I’m Living in a Haunted House

“Ghosts are the manifestation of the longing of loss.” ― Stewart Stafford

I got to babysit my 18 month old grandson last week. We had a great time together. it was just the two of us in the house. Each time he heard some creak or the “haunted refrigerator” he would stop and prick up his ears. He wondered if someone else was here with us or maybe if his parents were coming back to get him.

Now, every evening, I spend alone in my house. It seems haunted not by sounds but by memories and by empty places that were once occupied. I too keep wondering if the front door will open and someone will come home from a late night at work.

My wife has finished her five year battle with cancer. She has passed away to heaven. We spent all of our energy and attention on this ongoing battle – it was going very well right up until the very end. I hadn’t planned on being here alone when the war was finished.

There’s so much to do. I stay very busy but that never fills in all of the empty places. The house isn’t really haunted. It’s my memory, my heart and soul that’s trying to find a new peace.

We live in a world that works very hard to try and make heaven on earth. When we can’t find it, we often react in terrible ways. We quit, we divorce, we sulk, we walk out, we lose our faith. Heaven isn’t here on earth. Heaven can be brought to earth when we carry its truth in our heart and let it, like a flood, flow out of our life. My mission on earth is to bring the truth of heaven to people I meet each day.

I’m walking on a haunted road of grief these days. But I’m walking. None of us is exempt from pain and suffering. But we must all walk through this world as it is. God has made promises to his people again and again about his constant presence:

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  – Isaiah 43:2

While these days of grief seem strange and haunted they are passing away. The future, filled with hope, is always approaching. Make sure that you are that representative of heaven’s hope to everyone around you every single day. Grief is always too near.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ― Anne Lamott

Scars on Your Head

My wife had a gruesome scar on her head. It was her second. She had brain surgery twice. Her hair grew back and the scar was nice and hidden, but we both knew it there. Now, right after surgery, it’s very obvious. Makes me think about scars in general. All sorts of scars that we all carry around in our heads. Mostly hidden from others.

  • Sometimes our past leaves its mark
  • Other people hurt us and make a mark that never leaves
  • We keep making the same mistakes and those marks keep making scars on our lives
  • Life can deal us a terrible blow that wounds us deeply

Scars can make your life a misery. They can remind you of harm and hurt. But they can also be reminders of healing and hope. Life becomes what it is for the most part because of the way we decide to look at it, to carry it around with us, to use it (instead of letting it use us!).

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ― Kahlil Gibran

You can keep your scars all to yourself, hidden away, feeling some sort of shame or you can do something else. You can take your scars out of your pocket and help someone else on their road to healing. Take your pain and suffering and offer it as a healing reminder. One day this will be behind you!

“Scars. A sign that you had been hurt. A sign that you had healed.” ― Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Let someone else know they are not alone. Offer a helping hand to someone behind you on the road. Sometimes, only another person who has been where I am truly understands and knows just what I need. Be available as that kind of person. Don’t let your scars get in the way.

Whatever you do, don’t let your scars turn you into a monster, inside and out. Stop looking in the mirror and start looking for someone else who needs some love. They’re probably lying right there on the side of the road you travel every day.

“You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own.”― Frederick Buechner

 

Let all that I am praise the Lord;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

Psalm 103:1-5