We all have dreams. Some dreams emerge over time, taking shape like an image coming slowly into view as it moves closer to us – or we move closer to it. Other dreams are like seeds planted in our hearts from birth. Innate desires and passions that in their stubborn nature cannot be squelched or quenched regardless of circumstance.
Bruce and I have dreams. Some overlap. Some do not. It’s what makes our marriage interesting.
Those that overlap have been with us since childhood – to be married and have children.
God granted those dreams and turned them into reality for us, and we are grateful. However, something happened when we got married. Something we didn’t expect.
We’ve given witness to this account before, but there is specific purpose in sharing it today. If you’ve heard it before, read until the end.
We were newlyweds (he was 23 and I was 19) working our way through college. Bruce worked full-time and went to school part-time. I did the opposite. We found a very small foreclosed home and were able to move out of our one bedroom apartment and purchase this sweet dollhouse with all of its issues. Fannie Mae fixed the things that made it livable – the rest was up to us. We loved working on that house. It was our hobby when not working or studying.
About a year and a half into our marriage, we were exhausted. School, work, school, work. Bruce worked all shifts. I worked days. We seldom saw each other and could only afford occasional lunch dates and took advantage of every free thing there was to do: walks, picnics, bike rides, the beach, sitting at the airport watching planes come and go, etc. It was a beautiful, simple life. Still, we were tired. Very tired.
One Friday night, we made plans to fall off the grid for a little while. A needed respite. We packed up our cooler, kite, blankets, etc. and picked up our favorite dinner on the way – Subway sandwiches, chips and Sprite.
We drove to our favorite spot on our favorite beach (in FL) and walked what seemed like forever to get to our favorite spot.
There wasn’t a soul for miles – and we could for see miles in every direction.
The sun was about to set (FL folks know exactly how to time the sunset just right ) and we scurried to set up everything just so. It was perfect. A warm breeze blew, the sun boasted colors of pink, red and orange. Bruce staked the kite down as it gently floated. The picnic was perfectly arranged on the blankets, and the best part was – no one else was around.
We are extroverts, but this night there was something different working in our hearts. I’ll speak for myself…mind you my mom brought me up properly. She taught me well, but everyone has a sinful nature…I was feeling very selfish. It went something like this, Finally. I have arrived After a horrible childhood filled with drama, tragedy and loss I finally get my happily ever after. I finally get my wish come true. I want the world to just go away. This is my time with my husband at our picnic and I don’t want to think about, talk to or acknowledge that anyone else in the world exists.
Pause – there is a time for rest and rejuvenation for sure. There is nothing wrong with falling off the grid. However, my heart was cold and selfish toward anything else except what I wanted. There lies the problem, and Bruce’s heart felt the same.
We had literally just finished setting out everything perfectly, timing it to the spectacular sunset melting into the Gulf Coast, when we breathed a big exhale of relief.
Suddenly, a man and a woman were standing there…not just anywhere…on our blanket! What?!?!?
Where did they come from? We could see for miles, and we knew for a fact there was no one as far as the eye could see. Yet, here they were – on our blanket and in our space.
Bruce and I were so taken back we were completely speechless.
I can still see them in my mind’s eye. Both with brown hair. Both all in white. She wore a long, white dress and was barefoot. He wore a white pair of pants and a white button-down shirt (like you see in the movies) and was barefoot.
Stunned, we didn’t know what to say. The man said hello. The woman never said a word and stood slightly behind him. They never even told us their names.
Oddly, we never felt unsafe or scared – and I am a VERY skeptical person.
The man called Bruce’s attention to the kite. He began to talk to Bruce very causally, yet confidentially, about the physics of how a kite flies. He spoke with ease and authority. I’ve never heard anyone, ever, speak like he did. The physics he spoke about was the EXACT same thing Bruce had just learned in his physics class all week. Exactly the same. Bruce said it was like the guy was in his class. Bruce couldn’t find a word to say. He just stood there listening in amazement.
The woman and I stood silent. I had no words. Odd for me, I know. Typically I love talking to new people. This time, I had one train of thought in my head, Leave.
Ouch. That’s cold. But, it’s how I felt. After a long semester and tough week with work, I wanted to be left alone. I wanted my man, my night, my dinner, my sunset, my beach trip, my life to be mine. I was angry they were there. I wanted them to go away because they were about to ruin our sunset moment. So did Bruce for the same reasons, though both of us had been raised better than that. This was not our shining moment.
After the man finished talking kite physics, he turned to us and looked down at our modest picnic all ready to eat. He smiled and said, That’s looks good.
I thought, Okay, really??? Now he wants our food? You’ve got to be kidding me. Why won’t they just leave! I’m not sharing. Nope. Not gonna do it. No way. No how.
I dug my stubborn, bare feet heels in the sand. I felt the pull of my upbringing to always share, but my selfishness would have none of it.
The four of us stood there, on a small blanket rather squished together, looking down at the subs that the man called attention to. All of us stood in awkward silence.
I thought to myself, Well, I can stand here all night if that’s what it takes. I’m not sharing.
After a very uncomfortable, long pause the man smiled and said, Well, we should be going.
Oh! Leaving so soon? the bratty little girl inside me thought to herself. I am so embarrassed to be confessing this.
Bruce and I pathetically mumbled, Well, okay then. If you have to…
We still had no idea who they were, what they wanted, or how they appeared out of nowhere and were standing on our blanket.
Feeling guilty, we turned away from they as they began to walk away. Bruce and I looked at each other said at the same time, We shouldn’t have done that. We should have offered them dinner.
In the five seconds it took to say that, with changed hearts we turned back around to invite them back…and they were gone!
Gone! Gone! Gone! Vanished! Disappeared!
For all intense purposes, they should have been a few feet away from us in the seconds it took for us to change our minds. Let’s get crazy and say they bolted as fast as they could and ran – so they would still have been just several feet from us – well within view. Remember, we could see all the down the beach in all directions, and it was quite a hike for us to reach the edge of low tide.
Gone. Bruce and I quickly looked at each other bug-eyed and breathless as I said to him in shock, You don’t think they were…
Angels, he replied. Who else could they have been?
My heart sank in guilt. I asked God silently, What was that?!?!?
He answered with six words, And don’t let it happen again.
I knew exactly what He meant. He saw our selfishness. He tested us. We failed.
He spoke to my heart, Your marriage is to be an extension of my open hand – always.
I knew. I understood His point. He blessed me with a happy ending from a horrific beginning of life, and I took that blessing and ran with it clutched tightly in my grasp. I turned His blessing into my possession. I wasn’t willing to share – not my food, not my man, not myself, not my time, not my energy, not my attention. Nothing.
It’s ironic, all I wanted this man and woman to do was to leave. Now all I wanted was for them to come back so I could have a re-do, a second chance.
After all, just think for a second about the missed opportunity! These were angels! Think of the questions we could have asked over sharing a Sprite. Just think about it! No. Those questions would never have had the chance because before God ever put us to the test – He knew what our answer would be.
I’ve told Bruce several times over the years that I was so GLAD he was there to substantiate this account. He has said the same about me. In a time where there is so much falsehood, lies and twisting, no one knows who to believe. We know exactly what happened on that Florida beach in 1992 and we’ve never been the same.
After that, we knew our marriage was blessed to be an extension of God’s hand, but didn’t know how.
Childhood dreams began percolating in our hearts to begin a family. Three children later, we wanted a home to provide for our family. This meant steady work for Bruce to help realize another dream we shared which was for me to stay home while our children are in our nest.
With a marriage, children, work and a larger home in play, we settled into a great church and neighborhood and the calendar began to fill up. Having no idea how to raise children, we did what everyone else did – rec league sports, dance, gymnastics, and home parties selling Tupperware and Pampered Chef. My days were busting at the seams as a volunteer at school and church, organizing play groups and working as both a cake decorator from home and as a freelance editor into the wee hours of the night.
We went to Disney World, Sea World, many beaches along the East Coast, camped, rafted, hiked, helped with homework, held garage sales, hosted Superbowl parties, bunco and Christmas shindigs. I was a secret admirer for Valentine’s Day to my family, created leprechaun scavenger hunts for the kids on St. Patrick’s Day, oh I could go on and on and on.
We had the perfect life, right? Wrong.
With all of these good things, came another side to it all. It’s the side no one likes to talk about. With all of this big life came big bills and big responsibilities of maintaining it all.
We had never had so much – either of us – in all our lives. I don’t mean just tangible stuff, but so many places to be, people to see, things to do, commitments to keep, events to organize – it was too much.
We got our dream…in spades. That season reminds me of when the Israelites were wandering lost in the dessert for 40 years and they craved meat. They threw a hissy fit, so God gave them meat – until it was so much that it literally came out of their noses. Gross!
He didn’t do this to us, rather we did it to ourselves. It reminds me of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:23, ”Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. ”Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive.
We were into good things, but we had lost sight of balance and direction. We had ourselves so over-committed that there was nothing left of us to give to God’s open hand.
Without realizing it, we had been consumed with the American ideal. We had morphed into people we didn’t even recognize – all in the pursuit of the American dream.
That dream landed us in more debt, heavier weight, more exhaustion, and less peace than we’d ever experienced. It also cost me my health by contracting mono. That was the turning point for me.
I thank God He allowed me to get mono because it made me not just slow down, but stop. I could barely lift my head off the pillow for weeks. In that time, God taught me that there is such a thing as too much fun, too much work, just simply too much.
Dr. David Platt’s book, Radical, was part of the learning process. I should’ve known by the tag line of the book “Taking back your faith from the American Dream.” Naively, I continued to read it.
This book opened my eyes for the first time that the American dream has nothing to do with Christian living. My toes felt stepped on. I felt duped. It was as though scales had fallen from my eyes when approached with the fact that the American dream was created by man, not by God. God’s dreams and purposes for His people are so much bigger than 2.2 kids, a house, a job, a car and a great vacation with a retirement nest egg growing every year.
Being an American all my life, and living in America all my life, it’s like the doctrine of where I live got tangled up with God’s holy doctrine of what His grand design is for each of our lives.
Literally, I never gave a second thought to how, or if, these two are related. They’re not. There is nothing wrong with wanting to provide a decent life for our families. Work is biblical. Doing good works is biblical. Providing is biblical. But what are we pursuing?
What is our heart pursuing? Is it God’s passions or ours? That’s what my heart wrestled with.
Bruce and I had many deep conversations about life and goals and passions and dreams during this time. We agreed that we had become swept up more in the pursuing of the American dream than in pursuing God’s purposes for our lives. We never meant to. It was like a slow I.V. drip of disillusionment that kept us in a hazy, sleepy stupor all in the name of family…but not necessarily in the name of God.
More than wanting to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, we needed our world to be rocked. It wasn’t a perfect life by any stretch. We faced unemployment, family deaths, difficult seasons of our children’s lives, and personal struggles. Drama begets drama and we didn’t need more of that. We needed something to wake us up…to save us from ourselves.
When the prospect to go to Kenya came, our world was flipped upside down and turned inside out. Suddenly, everything we saw, touched, tasted and heard was different. God replaced our Americana viewpoint with lenses that reflect His passions, His hurts, His love and His dream.
Since Kenya and Ukraine, and now as we prepare for this year’s mission, we feel no ownership of anything that passes through our hands – and those things have no ownership over us.
I remember the day when Salvation Army came to pick up our dining set. An expensive, nice set complete with seating for 12, a sideboard buffet, mirror and huge hutch with glass shelving and recessed lighting All in excellent condition. The reality was that we didn’t need it, and we got excited about the prospect of it being a blessing to someone else. I remember the deliver guy looking at it and saying to me, Wow, this is nice stuff you are donating. I smiled and thought to myself, Yep, and someone will really enjoy it.
We’ve had so much fun getting rid of stuff! With every bag came the thought that someone else has really been needing or wanting this. That gives us way more joy than hanging onto it.
We finally got what Jeff understood in Radical, “For the first time, Jeff realized that God has a purpose for his life that was greater than the pursuit of the next bigger thing. So Jeff decided to walk away from the American dream.” (Radical, pg 81).
We are in the middle of some major kitchen repairs, and neighbors who see the trucks coming and going are kind and curious to ask how everything is going. I am happy to talk about it, but I’d much rather talk about this year’s mission and what God is up to there. Or Kenya, and what God is doing there. Or Ukraine, and how God is moving there. Or here in the States and the ways He is touching lives here. THAT is what excites me!
We need the kitchen repairs and gutting for maintenance & property value purposes. However, at the end of the day I am grateful for the blessing of doing it, but can now keep it in its proper place in our lives. I don’t get up in the morning to simply run out and stand in the kitchen. But I do wake up every morning with places on my mind and the people whom we’ve never met but have already taken hold of my heart. I get excited about the cooking camps we will be hosting as fundraisers to get us to our destination, and how much better the layout and flow will be for the girls and boys cooking in our home. I think about baking for the bake sale that benefits Samaritan’s Purse in this kitchen. I think about the deep conversations we will have with our children at the table about life, love and dreams. I think about the dinners Bruce and I will share – just the two of us – and am reminded that missions begins at home.
This new way of life, pursuing God’s dreams and not the American dream, has helped me loosen my unhealthy grip on my children – and accept that fact they have always been God’s first. Doing that has led me to deal with heart issues and baggage that have weighed me down far too long.
See how beautiful the tapestry of God’s grand design is? He works for the good of His children – both those who call Him by name and those who have yet too…but will. It is for these that missions exists, but God in His faithfulness heals both them and those sent to them. He is so good.
I believe that 21 years later, we have come full circle to that evening on the beach. I am just now beginning to understand what His open hand means to our family. I’ve learned a lot in the last 21 years and will chew on these lessons the rest of my life. Praise God He is in the business of redemption and restoration. He restores the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25).
God used missions to minister to us so we might minister to others. Missions, to me, is like the toggle in the movie Inception. In a world that is becoming more of a mirage every day, distorting and confusing us, the Great Commission given by Christ in Matthew 28:18-20 is my toggle that I look for to keep this world separated from the new world that is yet to come. It keeps me focused on the bigger picture, God’s passions and what kind of life pleases Him. It takes my eyes off of myself and places them on people and places that have God’s fingerprints all over them. Missions allows me to become less so that He may become more.
I love being an American, but I’ve walked away from the American dream. I have chosen to follow God’s purposes which will outlast everything else. If I cling to the American dream, then I would never be open to what God may ask us to do. After all, the Americana lifestyle is one of tangible success and comfort. Jesus came for neither of these. He came to serve, not be served.
If Jesus followed me around for a day, would He be excited about the work I do in my 24/7? Guess what? He does follow us around because He is always with us.
I had to release my life from my own grip so that God’s open hand could be extended. I don’t ever want to miss His divine appointment again because I couldn’t see past myself.
We haven’t had anymore angelic encounters on the beach, but we do have many opportunities to be His hands and feet. May it never take an angel to call us back to a place we never should have left – right in the middle of God’s heart.