I’ve been away for many weeks, studying Koine Greek and other sundry theological subjects while attending ELCA Lutheran seminary this summer. Today, or yesterday, according to the clock that measures chronological time, I was faced with a very shocking, harsh reality. Suffice it to say that a dream I’d carried around for the last six years was dashed on the rocks of unexpected truth, right before my eyes and out of the blue. I’m feeling bereft, lost and bewildered. I’m trying to be thankful that I can realistically assess my new reality, and carry on. I think.
I can’t really go into details: if you’ve ever carried around a precious dream, untold and sheltered safe in your heart as you wait and hope for it to unfold so you can share it with the world, you understand what I’m talking about. If you don’t, well, you may as well stop reading because this will all sound like drivel, and there’s a good chance that it is anyway. But since it’s my blog, I can and will indulge myself.
This dream, if I’m completely honest, took over my existence, humming along beside me and inside me as an undercurrent to everything I’ve been doing for a long time. It was always present, comforting me with its promise of excitement and its tentacles of hope, especially during times when I felt despair due to the stresses of graduate school, parenting as a single divorced person, or during medical challenges which seem to become ever more frequent as I age, not-so-gracefully.
No worries to all my career cheerleaders out there, I’m still on track for pastoral ordination, God willing and if I don’t fail Koine, which will be only by the complete grace of an all-powerful, generous and benevolent God.
But this now-evaporated dream has been a very concrete part of my life, my routine and future plans, my hoped-for-one-day which propelled me on days when I thought I couldn’t take one more step or study one more theological concept. This dream has died a very nasty, ugly death, without any possibility of resuscitation, and I am now faced with the prospect of finding something new to hope for, to fill that gap in my heart which right now screams in pain. The real problem isn’t the death of the dream: it’s the emptiness within my soul that the dream’s absence creates. There is a big, black hole there, threatening to suck all of me inside for consumption. I need a tangible lifeline to grasp, something new and shiny to insert neatly into my hoped-for future and fill that lonely void. But I don’t have a clue how, or where, to begin.
As I meandered home this evening from 4 hours spent doing Koine homework very badly at a local coffee shop, feeling miserably, deeply sorry for myself (“…and to top it off, I’ll miss my son’s birthday…”), I pondered my new reality, with all the objectivity and dispassion I could muster. Thinking of missing my son’s birthday this week brought to mind words I’d spoken to my son, several years ago: “This situation sucks. It truly does. But you have a choice. You can allow this fact to shape who you are and become either a victim, or a catalyst of change toward the authentic you.” Ahhh. Bold, courageous words, but perhaps much more easily said, than done. Sorry, kid. I’d want to smack me, too. Please don’t grow up to hate me, you know I’m nothing if not blunt.
If I take a deep breath and shake off the shreds of the lost dream, to honestly assess my situation, there is no escaping another blunt fact: I have been given many opportunities, many adventures, and have received blessings too numerous to count, too magnificent to be deserved. So complaining seems not only ridiculous, but also selfish and ungrateful. If divinity school and seminary have taught me anything, it is that I am truly grateful for my life, for every second of the good and for every bad choice and glaring error of it. No regrets. No changes. Lots of lessons learned. But loss is painful. Pain may bring transformation and growth, but crikey, it still hurts. A lot.
As I walked along this evening, sidestepping large black ants to instead crunch the first dried, dead leaves of the autumn that hovers threateningly around the corner, I detailed a mental laundry list of tangible blessings in the here-and-now aspect of my being. The “have” column is much longer than the “have not” side, if I completely discount the sucking chest wound which I am now faced. The facts are undeniable and undesirable, but reality is not: I have life. I have being, and worth, and friends and family. I can walk again, albeit wobbly compared to pre-foot surgery, and I’m about to begin a pastoral internship on a day that I thought would never arrive, 4 years ago. Reality sometimes bites, but I’m going to take my own advice, and bite back.
I want to resist the temptation to makeover my dream by labeling it as a mere fantasy…as something that I knew in my heart-of-hearts would never, ever be possible. We often soft-pedal our dreams as if to suggest that we never take them seriously, or as if they hold no meaning. That would be a lie: my dream was tangible and solid and delightful to ponder. It was part of me. It sustained and energized me. But the long night of my blissful, dream-filled sleep is over, and now it’s time for me to wake up. Hard. With lots of caffeine.
I will survive this, not by any action of my own doing, but because I place all my faith and trust in God, in whom all things are possible. I will bounce back, because Christ Jesus renews me daily through my baptism. All I have to do is believe, recalling God’s good actions in my life and throughout history. When I trace the baptismal cross embedded into my being, right there on my forehead, I’m reminded that God’s Holy Spirit walks with me, every moment of every day, whether my dreams ever do come true, or not. It may sound corny, but I realize that I’m living the ultimate dream: in my baptism, Jesus has promised me eternal life with my God, forever. My dream may not come true, but God’s promise will. Suddenly everything else pales by comparison, including lost dreams.
My friends, I hope you can hold your own dreams close, but if they escape your frail clutches, reach out and embrace new ones, always mindful that in our baptism, we are truly living the dream.
Be at peace.