Getting there from here…

I’m on vacation this week, so there are no promises.  I might post some photo essays of the North Cascades (vacation in the mountains…surprise!), or some thoughts on reading this week (Tolstoy, Rob Bell, Richard Austin, St. Matthew), but who knows.

Last night though, as Donna and I pulled into our resting spot for the week, there was some music playing that had me thinking about the past 31 years of adventure my bride and I have shared together:

1. youth ministry in Los Angeles with all the joys and heartaches that come from lives woven together.

2. a supposedly short stay in Friday Harbor as the interim pastor of a church, which turned into a six or seven years there and included morning walks “preaching to the whales” (because our services were in the evening, so I’d practice), and life changing learning from both friends and neighbors.  Our children were born there.  I bought a motorcycle and rode the perimeter of the island for mental health, stopping on the west side sometimes to watch whales.  I saw bald eagles mate, and baptized people in November Puget Sound waters.

3. six years in the mountains, which developed into a rhythm of travel  (teaching with Torchbearers Missionary Fellowship) and hospitality (as our family hosted weekend groups).  There were backpacking trips, and thousands of feet of rappelling.  There were northern lights, and a dinner with friends one night which consisted of freshly killed bear.  There were atheists, and fundamentalists, Europeans, and Southerners, people easy to love, and people less so.  There was a house church, where people raised their hands in the middle of the sermon with questions.  They were good days.  Our children learned to love creation there, and we read books together by the woodstove.

4. We’re coming up on fifteen years now, in the city, at a church I love.  More has happened here than I have time to write about (because, after all, it’s vacation).  Suffice it to say, that we consider ourselves privileged to share life with one of the greatest congregations anywhere, ever (OK, I’m biased).  I often feel as if I’ve received more than I’ve given; learned more than I’ve taught; and have seen, nearly every day, the truth of this line from a great hymn: “All I have needed, Thy hand has provided.” – encouragement, rebuke, direction, strength, resources?  Yes – always there, at the right time.

Along the way, we’ve raised our children.  My father in law died.  My mom sold her house, moved into a retirement center, and is now, at 90, in assisted living.  My sister died of a heart attack.  A Bethany Associate Pastor, and dear friend, died of cancer.  I’ve had struggles and doubts at times, clear personal failings at other times.  The journey’s not been some sort of walk through Disneyland.

It has been good though.  I’m profoundly grateful to be able to look back and see God’s guiding hand along the way, because the truth is that I didn’t plan any of it.  When I graduated from college, I thought I might write music for a living, or maybe work in the field of church music.  Seminary, Los Angeles, Bible teaching in Alaska, India, Nepal, Costa-Rica, England, Germany, Austria, and some places in North America, mountain ministries, living on an island, being a pastor, teaching with Torchbearers, and living the big city of Seattle – none of these things were goals.

I was reflecting last night on a profound moments that happened back in 1976 when, at a ski retreat, a speaker challenged me to make “knowing God”, not the main goal, but the only really big and central goal in life.  He said everything else would flow from that.  Whenever I get confused and overwhelmed, right down to this very day, I know that a return to this central pursuit will be life giving and foundational.  It seems that everything good has flowed out from this – seems that this is the best place to be.

The life God has given, the story God has written, is better than anything I could have made up!  That’s when I pray:  “Thank you in advance for the adventure that awaits us as we follow you…”  I believe it’s true, and as this vacation begins, am filled with gratitude for the journey Donna and I have been privileged to take together.

What do you think of goal setting?  What is it’s place in the grand scheme of building a life?

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About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Jim A.

    For 30 years we set goals. Usually 1 year and 5 year plans regarding family, children, business, etc. We wrote them down and tried to follow; usually with some success. But then one day we realized the futility of it all. We weren’t in control; God was. No matter how hard we tried, some life events just didn’t turn out the way we planned.

    Our children are more than we could possibly dream about. But one has epilepsy and you can never plan for those kind of life events. It brought enormous change to our life goals: what we spend our time on, what we fund raise for, how we educate ourselves and others, etc. That wasn’t in our goal setting process. Yet, she played soccer on 3 state champion teams at Lakeside, was All Metro in fastpitch, played 4 years of competitive fastpitch at Claremont Mckenna, attended and graduated from law school, passed the Bar exam, and has practiced law in the Seattle area for 3 years. How do you plan for that? God wrote that story. We wouldn’t change a thing.

    We wish we could take some credit, but we can’t. Everytime I start to feel pretty good about myself,
    someone or something reminds me God is in control. As I did my crossing guard duty last Sunday morning, chatted with folks going to church, and generally felt pretty special, some guy came by and made sarcastic remarks about my legs. Its enough to stop wearing shorts to church. I need to plan my wardrobe better.

  • Jim A.

    For 30 years we set goals. Usually 1 year and 5 year plans regarding family, children, business, etc. We wrote them down and tried to follow; usually with some success. But then one day we realized the futility of it all. We weren’t in control; God was. No matter how hard we tried, some life events just didn’t turn out the way we planned.

    Our children are more than we could possibly dream about. But one has epilepsy and you can never plan for those kind of life events. It brought enormous change to our life goals: what we spend our time on, what we fund raise for, how we educate ourselves and others, etc. That wasn’t in our goal setting process. Yet, she played soccer on 3 state champion teams at Lakeside, was All Metro in fastpitch, played 4 years of competitive fastpitch at Claremont Mckenna, attended and graduated from law school, passed the Bar exam, and has practiced law in the Seattle area for 3 years. How do you plan for that? God wrote that story. We wouldn’t change a thing.

    We wish we could take some credit, but we can’t. Everytime I start to feel pretty good about myself,
    someone or something reminds me God is in control. As I did my crossing guard duty last Sunday morning, chatted with folks going to church, and generally felt pretty special, some guy came by and made sarcastic remarks about my legs. Its enough to stop wearing shorts to church. I need to plan my wardrobe better.


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