Back at a college bible study (Prepare, for those of you familiar with it), my mentor Karen gave a visual about how we are to hold our dreams and desires. She held out an object on the palm of her hand, fingers flared. She said that we are to hold our dreams, desires, blessings, trials, really everything in our lives with an open hand. Many times we want to close our hand around whatever God has given us so that no one can take it away, not even our Heavenly Father. But God put it in our hands to enjoy, and we must remember that it is His. We must be willing to give it up if He asks it of us.
I've recently had to open up my fist and release a longtime dream to the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
Like most Americans, I suffer from entitlement-itis. I see it as my inalienable rights to be married, have kids, have a career, and own a home. Ah, yes, the "American Dream" where everyone lives in a modest rambler with a big yard and we're all successfully employed with 2.5 kids and a dog (or a cat for cat-people). We, as Americans, have a right to this dream. To misquote the Vulcan salute, "Work hard and prosper." And I was this close (imagine me pinching my fingers together) to having the American Dream plopped right in my lap. But I didn't marry him. Instead I married the man God had for me; I married adventure! And the best part about Mr. Adventure is that he holds his whole life with an open hand. I'm sure sometimes he would also long to "just settle down" and have a "normal life" with a "normal job" but we both know that God has different things in store for us and our family. He's even had to check me on occasion when I get moody and ask him when we're going to move out of the city. Will we move out of the city?! I hate the city! In my heart I know his kind, gentle, but reproachful answer: "I'm not going to answer that, Brenda, because I don't know. Right now, it is God's will for us to be in the city, and so that is where we are going to be." In other words, "you'd better bring this up with God because this is a heart issue for you." In other words, "SUCK IT UP, WOMAN!" (He would never say that; that's just a paraphrase... :-)
Most of all, I wanted a house. I saw all my friends with houses and my neighbors with houses and strangers with houses...mailmen with houses, truckers with houses, nurses with houses, dogs with houses, houses with houses. And I knew my house was coming! MAYBE SOON! Next year, 2 years? When, God, when?! Afterall, it's my right. And jealousy began to take root in my heart. I'd walk our daughter in the stroller along Minnehaha Creek and look at all the mansions. I could see families inside playing, eating, talking. When, God, when? What makes them more deserving than me?
At last today I was able to pray what I've been needing to pray for years. I repented of my envy and released my dream of a house from a clenched fist. I'm feeling what Paul says to the Philippians about being content in whatever situation you find yourself. I'm feeling what my husband says about experiencing contentment by knowing you're in the middle of God's will. I am content with renting. Maybe that seems petty. But any closed fists in our faith feeds rebellion and spoils the heart. It's an idol, pure and simple, no matter how petty.
I am EXCITED for this new freedom. By releasing this dream, I've allowed God to open up possibilities for our lives that would have been difficult if not impossible to navigate while bogged down with a mortgage. We are free to circumvent the globe at a moment's notice! (Well, maybe more than a moment, Abi still needs a passport!) We are free to pack up, pick up, and ship out. Praise God.
Here's a poem I wrote in college. It's pretty rough (my poet friends, please don't be too critical) but it shows how I gave up the American Dream (and my own romantic idea of a yard with a tire swing in it) to live the God Adventure. I hope you'll all join me :-)
The Dream of a Tire Swing
Copyright 2004 by Brenda J. Westerbur
In my graveyard of retired dreams hangs a tired-out tire swing
Amongst the buried, the abandoned, and the unremembered, pendulates this humble thing
Fastened feebly to its oak
With no tangible life ahead
With a slipknot slipped and a rotten rope
Only haunted by the life I’d led
With my dream of a tire swing
In my hunger and my determined denial, I felt I felt the wind
The falsehood of flight, a stagnant adventure, I flew willingly pinned
Rooted to one thrill
Yet finding no fault
Its reputation to fulfill
How easy to exalt
To stealing the dream of a tire swing
But the wind in my hair blew empty and sallow
The swing as it promised was honorably hollow
It lacked the means to carry me
The distance I was destined to fly
The Caller called me, his refugee,
“To be effective, the swing must die.”
So I burned my dream of a tire swing
I can see far past the horizon, with no destination in sight
And though I’m unsure where to land, I’m not afraid of the flight
The graveyard a scrapbook beneath me
My dreams laid to rest buried inside
My thoughts infer I feel curiously free
To find if I never returned, I could be satisfied
To a life without a tire swing