When The Dream Becomes Real

Graduation. Finishing well a plan that was begun, by law or choice. High school, college, or accelerated degrees are all a matter of our investment choices. What are we seeking to accomplish with what we finish?

I remember years of wanting to be finished with high school so I could do what I wanted. Be an adult and make all my own decisions. I was caught between being responsible for getting the best grades I could and just being done. At times I got by with what was enough, but not often.

College came, and I was making more decisions; happy with most of them, but not all. I went into secondary education, more out of pressure than personal pleasure. I taught high school English for one year and realized it wasn’t the dream.

Two dear friends just graduated with master’s degrees in counseling. It was a grueling course of study for two straight years. They both entered this having to thoroughly consider the consequences of the commitment. Both are moms, yet both felt compelled to pursue what they believed they’d been called to do–stand in the gap with people who were working through life issues, helping give direction and a listening ear.

There were times when both questioned the wisdom of their choices. Children and husbands still had needs. Both of their husbands graciously took up the slack, but family and marriage still require a two-person engagement. Exhaustion was a constant companion. Hours were often long.

I couldn’t have been more proud of them walking at their graduation ceremony if they’d been my own daughters. They successfully completed their studies and will now begin what they’ve dreamed of doing.

I asked another friend what her dreams were. She shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I don’t know if I remember how to dream.”

When our hearts are burdened with worries and anxieties, it’s easy to lose sight of what we hope for. Our hearts are the source of our dreams and desires, and from them comes the courage and determination to pursue what seems impossible. If we cloud our hearts with worry and fears, we lose sight of hope.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be aware of all that’s happening around us. Social media and 24/7 news make that impossible. We do, however, need to put life in the perspective of what really counts.

King Solomon wisely said,

“Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” Proverbs 4:23

How does one guard a heart?

We protect our hearts by being aware of what we think about and spend time doing. Dreams can be easily decimated by the worries and fears of today, by what we can’t control. When we no longer can tell the truth from a lie.

Jesus is the ultimate Protector of our hearts; He wants to fill them with hope and honesty.

Choosing to believe Him means counting the cost of what He says. We can’t pick and choose what we want to agree with and what doesn’t sit well with us. Jesus is either who He says He is, the Son of God, or a crazy man, or liar. Consider what that means.

Pursuing the dream took work for my two friends, but they stayed the course.

Pursuing Jesus?

That is the dream.

Unexpected Helping Hands

It was pouring. The rain was supposed to hold off till 5 pm.

What do weather apps know?

We had a barbecue in our backyard, complete with two water slides, and people daring the steep drops. With both adults and kids in attendance, many braved the slides, splashing all the people delightedly on the porch.

Problems arose when thunder and lightning interrupted our fun. Everyone looked at me as if I could make the storm go away.

I had to call everybody off the slide. Under the protection of the porch. We’ve been to enough soccer games to know the protocol when a thunderstorm erupts. You clear the field.

We had developed a splash zone we hadn’t anticipated, so water stood fairly deep on the porch. John came out with a couple of squeegees and began cleaning the water off the area. A young boy came over and asked, “Can I do that?” John grinned, handed him the squeegee, and passed out the other brooms and whatnot, and soon all the kids were clearing off the porch.

Nobody asked them to help. They thought it was fun, from the little ones who were shorter than the broom handles to the bigger kids.

It’s encouraging to see kids pitching in to help without being asked. Not something that happens all the time, but a reminder that they’re growing up and learning cooperation and responsibility.

Aren’t these character qualities things we all need to learn?

My Dad had a plethora of quaint, from-the-farm sayings. One of them was “It doesn’t cost you a nickel to be kind.” He tried to teach us the value of treating others like you want to be treated.

The Golden Rule.

“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and the Prophets and this is what you have.” Matthew 7:12

Doing kindness for others shouldn’t depend on who they are, how they look, or even how they’ve treated you. If I were judged by who I am on any given day, I may not come across as I’d like to. I have my kind and compassionate moments, but I can also be quite critical.

I need kindness. I need to offer kindness without expecting anything in return.

It’s not what people can give back to you that should motivate kindness. If we see a need, we should be willing to help.

The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 tells how Jewish “religious” men passed a wounded man on the road because they didn’t want to become unclean by touching him. They went out of their way to avoid him. But a Samaritan–a group of people that didn’t get along with the Jews–stopped and took care of him. He took him to an inn, paid for his lodging and his care, and said he’d be back in a few days if any more expenses were incurred.

That’s kindness.

These kids were grateful to have a chance to play; they also enjoyed helping. They didn’t have to do anything; they’d already eaten and had gone down the slides.

I was grateful for their willingness to assist.

Kindness doesn’t cost us.

it really is its own reward.

Beauty From Cleats

We are all so much more than we appear to be.

Not everyone gets that.

If we aren’t as good as what was expected, people might be disappointed.

If we’re more than what was anticipated, it’s a pleasant surprise.

When Sydney was dressed, her makeup and hair done appropriately for the prom, it was a significant transformation. Our soccer player who knows how to work hard and sweat metamorphosed into a beautiful and composed young woman. She won’t dress like this every day, though she did enjoy the temporary outer modifications.

We all have the capacity to amaze.

Watching Sydney journey through this season of high school dances and dresses, I was reminded of my own journey as a teen dealing with how I looked, how I was accepted, and whether I could be what I wanted to be.

I went to school with so many girls who were beautiful, poised, and self-confident. Growing up with a mom who constantly reminded me that you could never be too thin or too rich, I learned appearance meant a lot. There were so many times when I’d look in the mirror and believe I was a disappointment. Mom had been popular growing up, dating two or three guys at the same time, managing to do so without any of them knowing she was dating others. I didn’t date much in high school; I was shy and insecure, unsure of who I was or who I could be. I read voraciously; I’d lose myself in stories, dreaming of what could be possible.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how many things don’t have the value I originally placed on them. Appearance is something we all have, and judging how others look doesn’t take into account a story we probably don’t know.

God chose Israel to be His people, making them a blessing to the whole world. As a people, they’ve been through so much sorrow and misunderstanding. God speaks to the oppression they have felt throughout history. He speaks to our pain as well.

“To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory.” Isaiah 61:3

Ashes were sprinkled on the heads of those who mourned. Pain and death are part of life. But God speaks of exchanging ashes for a crown of beauty, a sign of dignity and festivity. This is a contrast to those who are hurting and alone; God will redeem them with hope and beauty. A gift of joy that changes sorrow to gladness. God cares about our whole person–not just what we look like. That’s the miracle that Jesus can do for anyone who chooses Him.

All this so we may grow strong and true, like oak trees that withstand the severest storms.

Sydney’s value isn’t based on her looks or soccer skills. Her worth isn’t determined by whether she goes to a dance or scores a goal.

She’s beautiful because she’s made in the image of the God who made her.

We all are.

What would it be like to believe you were truly beautiful?

When There’s No More Room On The Truck

photo courtesy of Wiley Wilkins on Unsplash

May is the new December.

With so many graduations, end-of-the-year gatherings (if you follow a school calendar), and deadlines that are full of “musts”, my mind has of late resembled a dump truck. As does my calendar. I keep filling it with all the necessaries, with increasingly less space or time to dump it out.

Not being a detail person, there are quite a few things lost in the truck. Things I should remember that at one time were at the top of my list and have now been pushed down to the oblivion of my mind. Not intentionally.

I struggle with distinguishing the necessary from the urgent. Priorities instead of good intentions.

With every invitation we’ve received to attend graduations or participate in gatherings, I try to make it work. John, a little more realistic than me, reminds me that we have only so much time.

We’ve not yet figured out how to be in two places at once.

Life is full of possibilities–and things we all long to do. The tendency to overcommit, to want to do it all, is a natural result of valuing a busy schedule.

It’s a lack of balance.

Balance is what I long for.

It escapes me.

I’m not the best when it comes to prioritizing things. I’m very present–what’s right in front of me is what I focus on. I’m becoming more adept at keeping up my calendar on my phone–filling in all those spaces can be overwhelming.

Remembering to check that calendar is yet another responsibility.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Action expresses priorities.”

How does the way I spend my time express what I believe is important?

Jesus, in speaking to a crowd on a mountainside, shared with them what it looked like to follow Him. To grow in a relationship with God and the effects of what knowing God would look like lived out loud. He shared that what captured our hearts is what drives our desires and shapes our dreams.

“Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

The first thing any of us must do is identify what we value. Job? Family? Friends? Wealth? Fame?

I want to value people and relationships like Jesus did. To see and treat people as important.

I’m always amazed when I consider that Jesus was never in a hurry. You never see Him picking up His robe and running. Or being too busy to talk with people or listen to them.

He had time for everything He needed to do.

Because His heart was connected to God the Father. He came to help us reconnect with God because He Himself is God.

My actions, then, should reflect my priority of God and people. The only way I can care more for others is to allow God to show His love for me and through me. There are too many times when I react to situations instead of responding in kindness.

It may be a busy month, but I can make the time for what’s important.

What are you making time for in your life?

What do you need to dump?

We’re Like Parfait

What I typically see her in are soccer shorts and a jersey or tee shirt. She’s busy, involved in everything from soccer to robotics, with interests that run the gamut in between. And comfort trumps fashion on most days.

When I was invited to come along to help shop for a prom dress, I couldn’t pass up this incredible opportunity. I’ve seen Sydney dressed for special occasions–I’m biased, but I believe she is quite lovely. But a prom dress? I had to witness this transformation.

I accompanied three of my daughters and Sydney as we entered into retail torture. I’m not a shopper by any means. I get headaches walking into malls. But this was an adventure, the chance to pioneer change.

Several dresses were chosen for Sydney to try on, jewel-toned and deep colors. As she tried each one on, I was amazed–every one of them looked great on her. She finally chose a long dress in deep forest green.

She chose this one because she knew nobody would imagine her wearing a dress quite like that.

She loves the idea that there is more to her than most people know. Surprising others is a joy.

One of my favorite movies of all time is “Shrek”. I love the relationship between Donkey and Shrek, and how their friendship develops into something neither expected. Each comes from a very different background. Donkey belonged to an old woman who tired of his talk. Shrek was a loner because he assumed all he could be was what everyone was afraid of.

As Donkey and Shrek head away from DuLoc, Shrek munches on an onion and comments that there was more to ogres than people thought. Ogres are like onions, with layers. Donkey tries to compare him to parfaits because everybody likes parfaits.

They can’t even agree on the picture of layers. Both of them understood that there was more to them than what others saw.

In the book of Genesis, Hagar ran away from the woman she served, Sarah, because she was pregnant with Sarah’s husband Abraham’s son–by Sarah’s design. She feared for her life. But God saw her and encouraged her, telling her she would have a son whom she would name Ishmael.

He saw her.

“Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the LORD, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” Genesis 16:13a

Hagar feared she’d be no more than a slave, cast aside, unknown, unseen. But God. He knew her completely and provided for her, even when circumstances made it difficult and awkward.

There’s so much more to us than most people recognize. Like Shrek, we have layers; sometimes rough and overwhelming, like an onion, and sometimes sweeter like a parfait.

I know there’s more to me than most people are aware of. I choose to protect myself because I know that sometimes I’m too much for some. Not enough for others.

God sees me in my entirety. And enjoys my many layers–the sour and the sweet.

Sydney will surprise many with her choice of prom dress, showing more of her mischievous side.

But each of us has so much more to enjoy than meets the eye.

We are parfaits.