Cherishing Hope for the Dream that Sticks Around

Most of the dreams that carried me forward and burned brightly in young adulthood have lost their luster years ago.

My twenty-something self would be mortified at the woman I’ve become.
I can imagine her indignant voice, hand on hip, eyes wide:

“What? No gym membership?”

“How many kids did you say you have?”

“What is this shipwreck you’ve made of our resume?”

But then, for most of us, there is a dream or two that sticks around, still cherished and yet unfulfilled.  It reminds us of its presence with a subtle pressure, like a pebble in the shoe.

Uprooting Bitterness and Planting Hope

Dreams with a long shelf life can light a spark in middle age, or . . . they can become the seedbed for bitterness and regret.  Sarah (Old Testament wife of Abraham and matriarch of the Hebrews 11 “faith chapter”) knew well the taste of disappointment and frustrated dreams. Over and over she heard about The Promise, a major topic of Abraham’s heart-to-heart talks with God:

“The Father of a Great Nation,” God had promised.
“Children as innumerable as the stars in the sky,”

God had spoken, and Sarah had worked hard to believe.

“If Abraham’s the father, that makes me the mother. Doesn’t it? Couldn’t we get started with just one . . .?”

As the years wore down Sarah’s hope and her joints, she may have found remedies to ease arthritis, but nothing took the edge off yearning.

Then one day when Sarah was 90 years old, the promise came once again. Picture an arid landscape. Abraham, now a very old man, is resting in the doorway of his tent to escape the heat of the day. Three men approach, and the gracious old gent hops up to show lavish hospitality, Middle-Eastern style. (Genesis 18:1-16)

Is it possible that Abraham and Sarah recognized one of their visitors as the angel of the Lord? This pre-incarnate embodiment of God the Son carried news that made Sarah’s heart skip a beat as she listened through the tent wall:

“Abraham, when I see you again, your wife, Sarah, will have a son.”

Twenty-four years had passed since this promise was first spoken out loud, and for the first time, Sarah was hearing that her own DNA was also important to its fulfillment. And suddenly there was a time frame on the table! This was all too much for her heart to absorb, and the text goes on to record Sarah’s response there, in the privacy of her tent:  She laughed.

Believing Over the Long Haul

Dreams with a long shelf life can light a spark in middle age, or . . . they can become the seedbed for bitterness and regret. Sarah (Old Testament wife of Abraham and matriarch of the Hebrews 11 “faith chapter”) knew well the taste of disappointment and frustrated dreams.

And may I ask, tenderly:

 How long have you been waiting for your dream to materialize? 

While others have moved forward into solid futures that look crazily like the one you’ve imagined, you feel as if, somehow, you’ve been left standing still.

Tired, faith stretched thin, the idea that anything good could happen, that blessing could wash up on your personal shore . . .?
Pfffff . . . Snort! Do you feel a cynical chuckle coming on?

Time bound and short-sighted, we need a sinewy faith to stave off bitterness when hope has been bleeding out for years.

Together, let’s join Sarah in pressing an ear against the tent wall to hear God’s words of choosing and commission

 Let’s join Sarah in pressing an ear against the tent wall to hear God’s words of choosing and commission. Your DNA is needed in this family of God. Press hard against the Tent Wall of Scripture and hear God’s voice today saying that His ultimate plan is for fruitfulness and joy. Soak in the record of prophecy fulfilled, the promises kept, the hand of God at work in stunning intervention, and then read in Psalm 126 about the laughter of dreams fulfilled that follows the tears of sowing seed and long waiting.

Can we trust the God who filled Sarah’s empty womb to fill our empty hearts? He longs to come to your tent, to lock eyes, and to share a meal with you. Listen carefully, and let the smile spread slowly over your incredulous face, for the truth is that He brings good news — and it’s for you.

//

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

This post was first shared at God-sized Dreams .

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Driven by Fear to the God Who Casts Out Fear

The road out of Jericho was always well-traveled, but Bartimaeus could sense something different in the air. Just as the angle of the hot sun on the back of his neck told him the time of day, the buzz of the crowd, the whispered excitement, and the press of bodies told him the truth that his ruined eyes could not — something was stirring.

Slowly, he pieced together the scene: a Healer, a Miracle Worker named Jesus was heading his way, and the word on the street . . .? This Teacher just might be the promised Messiah.

A seasoned beggar, Bartimaeus waited until just the right moment and then poured every possible ounce of drama into his anguished plea:

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he howled.

“Pipe down, Bartimaeus,” hissed the embarrassed townspeople, but the blind beggar called out all the louder.

In this encounter of a life time, Bartimaeus put all that he knew about Jesus into his heart’s cry, for he had a huge and impossible dream. Bartimaeus wanted to see, and he boldly broadcast his deep and urgent need to the only One in the universe who could help him.

Saying our dreams out loud can be intimidating — even frightening.

It feels vulnerable.

Exposed.

Whether it’s a career goal, a longing for intimacy, a desire for a child, or an avenue of service to God that won’t stop calling our name, it’s easy to allow the sheer size of the dream to muzzle our cry for help and to overwhelm us with fear.

Courage and Strength from an Upholding God

As a young woman, I believed that God was calling me to teach the Bible, and so I volunteered for a summer ministry that landed me in front of a crowd of rowdy kids with nothing in my trembling hands but my Bible and a few flash cards. Thinking that preparation — knowing my material inside out – would chase away the terror, I studied hard with a pounding heart.

One evening, my team leader flipped the pages of my Bible away from the story of blind Bartimaeus and into the book of Isaiah, handing me a torch of Truth that re-ignites even today whenever I sit around a circle of women with open Bibles:

Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV)

That young woman who hid behind her long hair and struggled to make eye contact with the world still finds her way back into my head sometimes. When I’m standing at a microphone, or preparing to click on “publish,” or leading a stressful meeting, I’m tempted to be still, to shut down, and to believe the lie that my words don’t matter — that I am, somehow, unqualified.

When fear threatens to extract all the air from my dreams, I’m thankful for the courage and strength that come from an upholding God. Mustering every fragment of truth that I can remember about Him, I release my dream to His care, and I hear the Spirit gently whispering:

Would you rather give in to the fear and miss this opportunity?

Have you forgotten that I am the God who says, “What do you want me to do for you?”

In the light of this blazing truth, may we answer God’s omnipotence with a trust that cries out, fearless.

By grace, may we let our fear drive us to the One who casts out all fear.


May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you,

michele signature[1]

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Photo by Leonardo Baldissara on Unsplash

 

This post first appeared at God-Sized Dreams

 

The Crash and Burn of a God-Sized Dream

It all started as a strategy for outreach. We sat around a table and began to dream out loud, trusting that the fire of shared passion and the wisdom of group process would yield creative ideas for communicating the love of Christ to our community.

I don’t mind confessing that I loved my dream. We would offer free oil changes to those in need: the poor, the elderly, single parents, come one, come all! Coffee and brownies would make the most of the waiting time as those of us less talented with a wrench would fill cups and keep the conversation flowing. We prepared colorful informational brochures about our church and its programs. We bought supplies, spread the word, and waited.

Not one person signed up.
Not one person called to inquire.

Rebounding from Disappointment

The spectacular crash and burn of my dream rang in my ears for a long time. In fact, it was all I could hear, and it was ages before my idea spigot found its way back to the on-position once again.

Reading through Jeremiah this year, I’m finding a soul mate in this life of perpetual rebound from disappointment. For 23 years, God’s Word came to Jeremiah. He rose early, and he burned the midnight oil. His words were the key note in a chorus of prophecy straight from the heart of God, urging Israel to back away from the abyss of their bad behavior.

They did not listen.
Yet, Jeremiah was persistent.

Looking back, there are plenty of reasons why my outreach brainstorm yielded not even a passing shower. In the nearly twenty years since, I’ve learned a lot about planning and about the unique ministry climate of my mid-coast Maine context. It was an idea that was doomed to fail before it even started, and yet . . .

Our story does not end with the death of one dream.

God’s new morning mercies jogged Jeremiah out of bed every day to share a message that burned like fire. Living in persistence requires showing up.

Our story does not end with the death of one dream.CLICK TO TWEET

Showing Up with Fresh Creative Energy

Our little band of believers has gone on to host dinners and day camps. We’ve caroled in December and picnicked in July, always inviting our community to the party.

Sometimes they come.
We have great conversations.
They hear the Truth about a loving God who spread His arms wide to embrace the world.

Sometimes, though, on event day, we sound like Jeremiah:
“You never listened or paid the slightest attention.” (Jeremiah 25:3-4)

For Jeremiah to show up every day for 23 years with fresh creative energy for each day’s attempt took supernatural strength. I want to persevere in that same strength.

It takes holy persistence to press into a task when all around you wafts the stench of failure.CLICK TO TWEET

It takes holy persistence to press into a task when all around you wafts the stench of failure.  Holley Gerth, author of You’re Made for a God-Sized Dreamreminds me, however, that “success isn’t about outcome; it’s about obedience.” When the God-sized dream that we launch like a bottle rocket crashes onto the rocks below, we start over.

Committing the dream to God, we begin again with all the enthusiasm of an encore: “Lord, this is for you!”
The curtain rises.
By faith, we begin again.




I look forward to hearing your thoughts (and maybe your shared experiences?) on the holy persistence that presses into a dream when all around you wafts the stench of failure.

 

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

This post first appeared at God-sized Dreams.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

No Bitterness in the Wait — Embracing the Aging Dream

Most of the dreams that carried me forward and burned brightly in young adulthood lost their luster years ago.

My twenty-something self would be mortified at the woman I’ve become.
I can imagine her indignant voice, hand on hip, eyes wide:

“What? No gym membership?”

“How many kids did you say you have?”

“What is this shipwreck you’ve made of our resume?”

But then, for most of us, there is a dream or two that sticks around, still cherished and yet unfulfilled.  It reminds us of its presence with a subtle pressure, like a pebble in the shoe.

Dreams with a long shelf life can light a spark in middle age, or . . . they can become the seedbed for bitterness and regret.  Sarah (Old Testament wife of Abraham and matriarch of the Hebrews 11 “faith chapter”) knew well the taste of disappointment and frustrated dreams. Over and over she heard about The Promise, a major topic of Abraham’s heart-to-heart talks with God:

“The Father of a Great Nation,” God had promised.
“Children as innumerable as the stars in the sky,”

God had spoken, and Sarah had worked hard to believe.

“If Abraham’s the father, that makes me the mother. Doesn’t it? Couldn’t we get started with just one . . .?”

As the years wore down Sarah’s hope and her joints, she may have found remedies to ease arthritis, but nothing took the edge off yearning.

Then one day when Sarah was 90 years old, the promise came once again. Picture an arid landscape. Abraham, now a very old man, is resting in the doorway of his tent to escape the heat of the day. Three men approach, and the gracious old gent hops up to show lavish hospitality, Middle-Eastern style. (Genesis 18:1-16)

Is it possible that Abraham and Sarah recognized one of their visitors as the angel of the Lord? This pre-incarnate embodiment of God the Son carried news that made Sarah’s heart skip a beat as she listened through the tent wall:

“Abraham, when I see you again, your wife, Sarah, will have a son.”

Twenty-four years had passed since this promise was first spoken out loud, and for the first time, Sarah was hearing that her own DNA was also important to its fulfillment. And suddenly there was a time frame on the table! This was all too much for her heart to absorb, and the text goes on to record Sarah’s response there, in the privacy of her tent:

She laughed.

Quietly, she snorted her disbelief in a laugh that carried an embedded sneer. Bitterness had been plowed underground as she wondered if, maybe, she had misunderstood God’s intentions. Gradually, her hope had faded as the years had passed:  empty womb, empty arms, empty promise.

And may I ask, tenderly:

 How long have you been waiting for your dream to materialize? 

While others have moved forward into solid futures that look crazily like the one you’ve imagined, you feel as if, somehow, you’ve been left standing still.

Tired, faith stretched thin, the idea that anything good could happen, that blessing could wash up on your personal shore . . .? Pfffff . . . Snort! Do you feel a cynical chuckle coming on?

Time bound and short-sighted, we need a sinewy faith to stave off bitterness when hope has been bleeding out for years.

Together, let’s join Sarah in pressing an ear against the tent wall to hear God’s words of choosing and commission

Your DNA is needed in this family of God. Press hard against the Tent Wall of Scripture and hear God’s voice today saying that His ultimate plan is for fruitfulness and joy. Soak in the record of prophecy fulfilled, the promises kept, the hand of God at work in stunning intervention, and then read in Psalm 126 about the laughter of dreams fulfilled that follows the tears of sowing seed and long waiting.

Can we trust the God who filled Sarah’s empty womb to fill our empty hearts? He longs to come to your tent, to lock eyes, and to share a meal with you. Listen carefully, and let the smile spread slowly over your incredulous face, for the truth is that He brings good news — and it’s for you.

This post was first shared at God-sized Dreams 

//

In just a couple of weeks, we will begin what I hope will be a leisurely and joyful read of Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry.  The humble bachelor barber of Port William, Kentucky is surrounded by a cast of characters that weave in and out of his story, sharing their wisdom in their turn.  In light of the tragic mayhem of recent days, these words from farmer Athey Keith frame simple truth:  “It might prove out to be that if we can’t live together we can’t live atall.  Did you ever think about that?”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Die Before You Die (Till We Have Faces Discussion Group — Conclusion)

I’m a little tentative about the practice of assigning meaning to my dreams, but there’s one that came to me when my children were tiny, and its message was clear.  In the dream, I was making piecrust and realized, to my dismay, that I had forgotten to double the recipe.

“No problem,” I thought with the amazing clarity and decisiveness that comes in dreams, and I tossed a wet dishcloth into the bowl.  Genius, right?  It mixed in rather well — until I started rolling out the crust, at which point, my makeshift piecrust was exposed in all its fraudulence.  I awoke from that dream a little shaken, but galvanized against the artifice of cutting corners with my family for the sake of appearances or easy solutions.

Whether my dream was a message from God or the product of a guilty conscience, it’s clear that the gods of Glome have Orual’s attention around the clock as she comes to the end of her long and tumultuous reign “drenched in seeings.”

Plot Summary

Orual begins Chapter 3 of Till We Have Faces Part II with a resolution to plum the depths of the god’s admonition to “die before you die” — although it’s clearly anybody’s guess whether she actually understood what the god meant by his words.  Interpreting it as a call to change “an ugly soul into a fair one” was no small project for a woman who had already set her face like a flint against the help of the gods.

A series of dreams follows in which Orual is striving to complete various tasks —  with little success.  However, she receives her long-awaited opportunity to present her complaint against the gods, only to conclude, in the end, that her elaborate arguments had shrunk to a tiny and shriveled scroll.  The Fox guides Orual through a series of picture/stories that reveal the essence of Orual and Psyche’s oneness throughout the years — and the truth that perhaps Orual’s claim that she had “at least loved Psyche truly” is not as valid as she had once thought. The sisters are reunited in the presence of the god who reveals himself once again, this time to both sisters, and Orual learns that this — the face of the God she had long feared and hated — was the answer she had sought all along.

Reflection

So often we expend our efforts, gathering evidence and building a case in our own minds to defend ourselves against the truth and then find, like Orual, that the evil in our life (which we would dearly love to blame upon another) has been, after all, of our own making and that our defense has shrunk to a toddler’s tantrum:

“That there should be gods at all, there’s our misery and bitter wrong . . . We want to be our own.” (291)

The discovery that her complaint is, indeed, the answer she has been waiting for reminded me of Job’s persistent questioning which was, in the end, answered not with words, but with a Person, causing Job to realize that only now did he truly “see” the LORD.

Lewis the story teller and Lewis the theologian have joined forces in these last two chapters, creating a tale that defies allegory.   I’m longing to put a neat little translation guide here in this final post, but, in true Lewis-ian form, there are just too many aspects of the story that will not fit.  We have empty bowls, books full of poison, and a well-timed eagle who comes to the rescue. We have Christ (the god of the Grey Mountain) as the unseen lover and Psyche as His bride, while Orual, in her dreams, wears the face of Ungit — but finds in the end that she will indeed be Psyche as well.

The sad truth of Till We Have Faces is that Orual spends her entire life striving to make herself into what she is not, losing herself in the identity of the Queen, even wasting her energy on furious last-ditch efforts at self-reformation, until, finally, at the end of her life, she becomes herself.  She finds the face she abhorred and hid when she comes face to face with the god she had abhorred and hidden from throughout all her days.

The dire warning that resonates from Orual’s history of natural love gone rogue is not a warning against love, for God makes it very clear that love is the foundation of all our works of righteousness.  However, as we were reminded in week seven of our discussion, if the lover is not healthy, then neither is the love. Once Orual found a right relationship with the gods, she was able to discover a right kind of love for Psyche that was not based in control or devouring.  When she realized that her cry for justice from the gods was met not with justice but with love, she also was enabled to see the emptiness of her accusation against the gods.

Some Issues to Ponder

  1.  Sehnsucht:  For all her days, love and longing have been two sides of the same coin for Orual.  Remember, for Lewis, Sehnsucht is attached to beauty of surroundings, memories of the past, and the continual search for joy — which is just out of reach as long as we abide on this planet.  His ending to Orual’s pilgrimage was jarring for me — one minute she’s in despair, and the next she’s standing with downcast eyes before the One who is the Answer she has sought. And then she dies.  I find myself wanting to rewrite the story with an ending in which Orual gets to live “unmade” (307) in Glome with the walking-around-living-her-life knowledge that she has been wrong in her assessment of the gods. But then, of course, the story would not be as tantalizing and thought-provoking, right?
  2. It is ironic that Lewis makes the Fox Orual’s guide through The Deadlands.  After all, the Fox had spent his life in the role of the rationalist, even though we noted that his armor cracked at times.  Still, he shows up in the end as an interpreter of all that had been going on in the unseen world he claimed to have despised. Lewis scholars claim that one of the lessons of Till We Have Faces is the limitations of reason, and that the character of the Fox is the conveyance of that lesson.  We are able to see this even in the post script by Arnom (the priest) who, along with glowing accolades for Orual, communicates her desire that her words be taken to Greece and shared with the population of rationalists who produced the Fox and his kin.
  3. Did Orual succeed in following the god’s admonition?

“Die before you die.  There is no chance after that.”

Having spent her life making a god out of being right, I do believe that, in the end, the crashing down of Orual’s elaborate case against the gods was a kind of death.  Shouting her complaints over and over, she hears her own voice and finds it strange to her ears. Witnessing the record of her brutal treatment of Psyche on the wall of paintings, she hears, once again, her own voice coming from her suffering self as her arm dripped blood.  Her words of confession to Psyche reveal a changed heart:

“I never wished you well, never had one selfless thought of you.  I was a craver.”

As with the “un-dragoning” of Eustace (Voyage of the Dawn Treader), Lewis has portrayed the “unmaking” (307) of a character through a painful and frightening process that results in an individual becoming more fully themselves than ever before.

Your Turn

This is the final installment of our conversation, and the invitation still stands for you to share the link to a blog post or your insights on this journey in the comments section below.

I have mixed feelings as we bring the discussion group to a close.  While I rejoice in the resolution of Orual’s questions and accusations, I would love for her to have listened to her momentary impulse beside the river in the land beyond The Tree.  What if, instead of holding Psyche to her horrible promise and instead of denying the vision of the castle, she had given herself over to the Truth that, at the time, seemed like such a great loss to her?

However, even in the world of story, I have to acknowledge the wisdom of Lewis’s words about this kind of wondering:

“We can never know what might have been but what is to come is another matter entirely”

Therefore, my friends,  it is my prayer that Orual’s story will impact on “what is to come” in our own stories.

May we, too,  be “drenched in seeings” that purify our love and cause us to overflow with gratitude for the truth that it was not only Psyche for whom Another bore the anguish.

May our whining cries for justice stick in our throats as we consider the Great Love that makes all our efforts at “mending” our own souls fall like rags around our feet.

//

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.