What dreams may come – living with fulfillment and delay

Yes, there was that little 32-year delay – but eventually it happened, or will happen very soon.  My wife was up until after 2AM last night writing a paper and preparing a presentation for her last day of class, which is today.  She’s been involved in a two-week intensive class, studying the holocaust.  Each night she’s been reading history and writing about it.  Sometimes we’ve had conversations about it, and at times her content has intersected my world as I’ve been bringing a teaching series on the Sermon on the Mount to completion.  These teachings of Jesus challenge the pretense of religion and the use of “god words” to justify injustice, attitudes which were present in the Germany of the ’30s and led to their eventually collapse under the weight of a mad man.  Barth’s Romans and Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship are both written to call people back to robust faith, a cry which is needed in our time as well.  But I digress….

The 32-year delay happened because this was the woman I wanted to marry, and so I asked her and she said yes, even though yes meant moving to a different state before graduating.  Then she invested her time in other things, like financing my grad school, giving birth to three amazing children, raising them, functioning as principal and head teacher as she home-schooled them.  When we moved to the city, she continued by working in Seattle as a means of funding their education all the way through the completion of their college careers, while being a pastor’s wife and the co-director (with me) of wilderness retreat center along the way.  By December, though, she’ll have completed her degree requirements, and will, next June, graduate right alongside our youngest daughter.  That’s a graduation I won’t want to miss.  Believe me: I’m not only proud of her, but humbled by her enormous investment in our life together.

If you’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life or Mr. Holland’s Opus; if you’ve read your Bible and looked at the lives of Joseph, or Moses, or David, or Paul;  if you’re over 45 years old, you know this:  Some dreams are put on hold.  There are at least two reasons for this:

1. The world is fallen – Untimely deaths, illness, employment challenges, hurricanes and earthquakes, war; these are all setbacks that arrive, uninvited, into our lives at various times.  Nobody plans for these things, but they happen.  When they do, our dreams are need to be put on the back burner so that grieving or surviving or rebuilding can happen.  This is our world, and this is the danger of dreams.  It’s easy to believe that our desires for the future are the most important thing about life, but history tells us otherwise.  Esther was born for “such a time as this” even though the time was a time that put her people at risk of genocide.  Nobody asks for these kinds of intrusions, and the truth is that none of us are immune from these things.  The good news of Christ is that right in the midst of these realities, the life of Jesus can still be formed in us, enabling us to be people who shine as light in our dark world.  We need to hold our dreams loosely in a fallen world, because we may be called to other realities.  As Gandalf says, what matters is what we do with the time we’ve been given.

2. There are other dreams – Even without the effects of the fall, the reality is that many of us several dreams: We dream of living overseas or getting married, of climbing mountains in Asia or raising children.  Dreamers can’t have it all, in spite of what the world tells us.  We’re told to find our main thing in life and invest in it first, and most.  This can be challenging as it might mean letting go of good things because of better things, even though better things may not always have immediate rewards.  So, you invest in parenting, and set your skis in the closet.  You invest in your marriage and set aside some “more personal” goals.  You invest in your calling, and your dreams take a back seat.

It seems that our capacity to enjoy downsized dreams is critical to our joy and contentment because the reality is that each of us have some things that God has for us to do.  Doing them, though, requires a devotion to them which, in a finite world, necessarily diminishes other dreams, or at the very least delays them.  I am profoundly grateful for the woman I married who embraced her primary calling (and this isn’t a post about gender roles – she viewed herself as wife and mom before anything else) and has lived into it with grace and joy, even when it meant that other pieces of her life were put on the back burner.

One of the great gifts of life, though, is that it isn’t a zero sum game.  It’s not all or nothing.  She’s an amazing mom and wife, and now she’s finishing her degree.  She’s been the manager of 99% of life’s details for the Dahlstrom household, and still managed to enjoy the occasional hike and backpacking trip, as befits an Outdoor Recreation major.  And now, 32 years later, she’s graduating.

Bonhoeffer said, in much darker times, when all dreams were dashed, “We must learn to cultivate gratitude for the little things.”  Indeed.   A simple morning of climbing isn’t as good as a three-day expedition and first ascent; but it’s still a climb.  A short-term mission trip isn’t as good as moving to Asia (if that’s your thing), but it’s still a chance to both bless and be a blessing.  Jogging twice a week will never put me in marathon class, but it’s still good.  We live into our primary calling and in the process downsize a few other dreams.  It’s best to enjoy the downsized version, rather than making an idol of our grand visions and becoming bitter in the process.

As I watched my wife last night, pouring over her notes and typing papers, I was reminded (as I am daily) that she could have done nearly anything.  She has a good mind, works hard, and is creative.  What she did, though, was marry me, which led to a downsizing of other dreams.  She’s lived into this with grace, joy, and creativity – and I believe that many people are the richer for it, especially me, who is richest of all.

Autumn is a time for dreaming, as school begins again, and people move, and step into new seasons of life.  Sometimes the containers in which our dreams can reside need to change size – those who can flex with that are richly blessed.  Enjoy the weekend, even if your dreams are on hold, or downsized.

 

 

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.

  • http://www.kristidahlstrom.wordpress.com Kristi

    Oh Dad, this is so beautiful. Her “on hold” dreams as she serves all of us… I’ll never stop being grateful, nor striving to live as selflessly as she does. Thanks for posting, and for continuing to encourage Mom as she finishes.

    It’s a graduation worth coming home for, that’s for sure!

  • Megan

    Congratulations to your wife and your daughter. Though I haven’t met your family, I can’t help but smile at the thought of the double graduation you’ll soon celebrate.

    Thank you for this website. I come here from time to time(and to the Bethany Community Church site) from Ohio and am never disappointed. Your words help ground me and remind me what really matters. They are also quite enjoyable to read. In some of your archived sermons my husband and I have found both comfort and gentle reminders that faith is to be LIVED & LOVED (not to mention good Sunday dinner conversation topics).

    Peace & Blessings. . .
    Megan
    Dayton, OH

    • raincitypastor

      Thanks for the encouragement Megan….and may we all find joy in what’s on our plate during the days ahead.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/jadeejf Beth

    This is an excellent post. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement to those of us whose dreams are deferred! Good words, as always.

  • http://notsoyellowbrickroad.wordpress.com Carly Rickabaugh

    This made me teary-eyed! Love it! Go Donna, Go! She’s superwoman i tell ya.

  • Lee

    Another great post. To an extent, I have been guilty of bitterness over dreams not realized. This post really helps me and reminds me of James 4:13-17. Thanks again Richard!

  • Joe

    In all of your humbleness you only scratched the surface on what an incredible lady you married. I remember the late nights when she was up preparing menus for the group of summer students, or packing meals for the week-long trips into the North Cascades. And then there were the trips that she made into the mountains carrying a 30-40 pound pack and the hours of coordinating staff for the next event. You are a blessed man my friend. Blessings to your family.

  • Joe

    In all of your humbleness you only scratched the surface on what an incredible lady you married. I remember the late nights when she was up preparing menus for the group of summer students, or packing meals for the week-long trips into the North Cascades. And then there were the trips that she made into the mountains carrying a 30-40 pound pack and the hours of coordinating staff for the next event. You are a blessed man my friend. Blessings to your family.

  • Sara

    Richard, this is a lovely tribute to your wife. My congratulations to her on her graduation, and on a life well-lived.
    However, I really struggle with this. My dreams are basically dead, which is not exactly unexpected, given a world bound by sin and the biblical teaching of “whoever loses his life for me will save it”. So that’s not fun, but I understand that it’s not necessarily bad. The real problem comes for me in your statement “We’re told to find our main thing in life and invest in it first, and most.” And it’s not that I disagree with that at all, it’s just that God hasn’t ever indicated to me what that main thing might be for me, through 40+ years of waiting and praying (sometimes more, sometimes less faithfully, of course). I would love to embrace my primary calling as your wife did, but without one, I feel like I’m in limbo. No dreams to look forward to, no calling to work toward, no gifts to use. It’s very disheartening, and honestly, whenever you teach on this, I find it very depressing because it just highlights this gaping lack in my life that God doesn’t seem to be interested in filling.

    • Erica

      Sara – I totally identify with your comment. For the past few years, I’ve felt stuck with where I am and very ready to connect with a dream or calling, particularly career-wise. Despite many prayers and efforts, things just aren’t coming together. In fact, every effort I make seems to be somehow blocked. I just don’t get it. Anyway – just know that you’re not alone.

    • raincitypastor

      Thanks for your honest sharing Sara. The challenge in finding ‘the main thing’ is a big problem in our culture, and I’m just now starting to formulate reasons about why that’s the case. I think some of the contributing factors include the dominant narratives of our culture, which are focused largely on either wealth/security or collecting experiences/adventures. Neither of these will be able to satisfy ultimately, because God is writing a different story. As I share “The Colors of Hope”, my own discoveries of calling were deeply rooted in the reality that God knows me better than I know myself, and that because of this, I need to open myself to experiences I wouldn’t intuitively choose.

      In addition, there’s this other crazy reality that the greatest vocation of all is to simply love God. When I look at the life of Moses, I’m reminded that before he was able to take up the calling as deliverer, he spent 40 years in the desert, there learning some things about intimacy with God, and God being enough. David had similar experiences as a shepherd, Paul as a tentmaker. I don’t know that this makes life any easier, but somehow it seems that “making a difference” is oversold in our culture (and I may be guilty of overselling it). The reality is that loving God and loving the people in our lives, and learning to do those two things with consistency and grace, are the most important callings of all. We already know this.

      I hope this helps, but as Erica shared above… your struggle is a common one.

  • Robert Lund

    Pastor Dahlstrom,

    Your wife has inspired me to start the law school admissions process. God Bless your wife.

    Regards,
    Robert Lund

  • Robert Lund

    Pastor Dahlstrom,

    Your wife has inspired me to start the law school admissions process. God Bless your wife.

    Regards,
    Robert Lund

  • raincitypastor

    Thanks for your honest sharing Sara. The challenge in finding ‘the main thing’ is a big problem in our culture, and I’m just now starting to formulate reasons about why that’s the case. I think some of the contributing factors include the dominant narratives of our culture, which are focused largely on either wealth/security or collecting experiences/adventures. Neither of these will be able to satisfy ultimately, because God is writing a different story. As I share “The Colors of Hope”, my own discoveries of calling were deeply rooted in the reality that God knows me better than I know myself, and that because of this, I need to open myself to experiences I wouldn’t intuitively choose.

    In addition, there’s this other crazy reality that the greatest vocation of all is to simply love God. When I look at the life of Moses, I’m reminded that before he was able to take up the calling as deliverer, he spent 40 years in the desert, there learning some things about intimacy with God, and God being enough. David had similar experiences as a shepherd, Paul as a tentmaker. I don’t know that this makes life any easier, but somehow it seems that “making a difference” is oversold in our culture (and I may be guilty of overselling it). The reality is that loving God and loving the people in our lives, and learning to do those two things with consistency and grace, are the most important callings of all. We already know this.

    I hope this helps, but as Erica shared above… your struggle is a common one.


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