Dream Catcher

Sometimes the glitter gets rubbed off our dreams.

Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of having a horse.  I was a city girl and there wasn’t money for a horse.  But horses exemplified freedom, and I knew if I just had a horse, I could escape all my troubles and ride off into the sunset of a life as it was meant to be.  That dream remained with me throughout my life, even as I grew up, married a wonderful man, had our son and lived a happy life.  It remained with me as Jesus healed me from a life without Him.  In fact, God has used my horse dream repeatedly to shine light in my heart, and to reveal Himself in my life.

My first horse was a gift from my husband on my 30th birthday.  Dallas was a young horse, and not a good fit for a green rider like me.  He was followed by several inexperienced horses over the years.  One of those horses threw me badly in 2009.  My neck healed from the severe whiplash I suffered, but my psyche and heart were not so quick to heal from the fear of being thrown again. I experienced some success as I worked with my horse trainers to learn to remain engaged with my horse when fear was triggered.  However, there were times when fear seemed to set in and take hold of me – as if my dream was betraying me.  Why couldn’t I get through this fear in my horse dream?!

One example of fear taking hold occurred in 2012 with my beautiful gray mare, Lily, after a couple of lessons where my lack of focus and engagement with my horse resulted in what I interpreted as belligerent behavior in her.  My trainer (and friend) reminded me that in the relationship with my horse, I had to be the adult, so Lily could trust me.  She said what I interpreted as belligerence in Lily was probably uncertainty.  So, I determined to work on being the adult in the relationship during the following week.

I took Lily out to the front yard to work her on a lunge line on Monday night.  She trotted and cantered on cue for a couple of laps, then exploded into a wild gallop around and around me.  I pulled her head toward me to try to slow her and used the whip to push her away when she faded in toward me, fearful she would kick me.  I could not release her line in the yard, lest she run into the road.  She finally tired enough that I could slow her and stop her.  She stood sweaty and exhausted at one end of the rope, while I stood sweaty, exhausted and nauseous with fear at the other end.  I waited for my heart to stop pounding in my ears and for my lungs to take in more than shallow gasps, then I gathered up the line, led her to the barn and released her into her pasture.  I sat in my barn as the day’s light waned.  I cried and prayed.

The fear and anxiety I felt brought me the closest I had ever come to my dream being crushed.  It was not just the challenge of the recurring fear or working through ineffectiveness, but also the concern that I was ruining this wonderful horse, and consequently, disappointing my trainer.  I cried out to the Lord – and what came to me was, “Trust Me, I will bring you through this.”  I did not know how, and I did not know how long it would take, but I put all my trust in Jesus, who was always faithful to me.  I knew I would try again Tuesday night.

I shared with my trainer in email what happened, and what my fears were.  She reassured me that she was never disappointed in me – that she had the utmost respect for my try and commitment; and she told me I could not ruin Lily, who was strong and resilient.  She told me to hold onto those two truths and not let the enemy steal them from me.  She also suggested that the challenges I faced went way beyond horse stuff.

Tuesday evening I walked out to Lily’s pasture to work with her.  I asked God to be with me, but I was really scared – I just needed her to not explode.  It was not much to offer my horse, but it was all I had.  Lily balked at my tentative requests, but she did not pitch a fit.  It was enough in that moment.

Wednesday morning, I reminded myself that the God who had been with me even before I believed in Him, was always with me.  He told me to trust Him.  I knew He would, once again, be my strength in getting me through whatever I was facing.  I let go my attitude of resignation in my circumstances and resolved to battle my fears.  By this I do not mean, “I’ve got this, Lord.”  What I mean is, “If this is what You call me to do, I am willing.  Lord, make me ready.”

Yet, as I stepped through the door into the garage on my way to work with Lily on Wednesday evening, I felt fear gnaw at my heart and mind.  I sat on the step and prayed, “Lord, I’m scared, but I trust you to bring me through this.”  Truly, I still did not know exactly what “this” was.  I asked for His strength to help me stand against my fear and against the enemy trying to steal my dream.  Then, a thought struck me.  I knew God was not causing my fear, but I asked Him if He wanted me to give up my dream for some reason?  I told Him I would fight against the enemy, but that if He ever asked, I would surrender my dream, though it would hurt me to do so.  And I heard again, “Trust me.”  So, I steeled myself and headed for the barn and Lily with a determined attitude.  I think Lily felt the change in me right away.  She pitched a half-hearted fit, but she willingly moved out when I pushed her through it.  We got forward: not always pretty, and not perfect, but we got it.  I thanked and praised God for the victory.  But I knew the core issue remained.

During my prayer and Bible time with God Thursday morning, and still enjoying the victory with Lily, I thought about my dreams and fears, and my growing knowledge of, and faith in, God.  Coincidentally, I had recently read an article about facing our fears and spiritual growth, which provided insight. 

The author said, “Sometimes in order to keep the dream alive we must run head on into our deepest fears.  Fighting those fears may be the hardest and most painful thing we do, but it never fails to be worth it.”  I could certainly attest to the difficulty and pain of facing and fighting my fears.

My childhood dream was freedom, represented by owning a horse – a child’s simple hope of life as it should be.  God granted me that dream in adulthood – perhaps even put the dream in my heart – even before I knew Him.  However, the dream presented challenges all along: I had experienced fears, setbacks, temporary defeat.  Yet I held to that dream.

I thought about how God had held me that week and helped me face and conquer a setback and almost crushing fear, and I suddenly realized something: the dream of freedom and that things would one day be as they should be – would not be fulfilled by my success with my horse.  I had made my horse dream a “thing.”  In fact, apparently, I had made it “the” thing upon which all else hinged.  Though I loved the Lord with all my heart, there must have been a tiny part of my wounded little girl’s heart deep inside that never gave up the idea that my horse dream was somehow tied to my healing.  I heard my friend’s words again, “What you are going through is way beyond horse stuff.”  Oh, how could I have been so blind?!  The real dream – that things would one day be as they should be– was never about horses.  The Truth:  God is the dream, the ONE thing that all else hinges on.  It was a painful, searing revelation – yet I laughed with joy for being shown the chink in my armor.

“Thank you, Jesus!” I said aloud.

I hit my knees and again surrendered all to Jesus – my hopes and dreams, my pain and fear, my family and friends, all surrendered into His care.

My horse dream had been put into perspective.  I saw that I had put WAY too much pressure on my horse and myself.  Lily finally got to be a horse, and not just a dream come true.  Did horse things suddenly become easy?  No.  I continued to struggle, and continued to experience fear on occasion, even today.  I had twisted the dream God put in my heart.  But, when I surrendered my dream to Him, He faithfully polished it and gave it back to me – and it far surpassed anything I could have imagined.  This was freedom.

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

So, I can say with the greatest conviction: I am truly and gratefully living the dream every day.  When I look away or lose sight, God’s focus on me always helps me refocus on Him.

Heart Stance

I was reminded recently of our dog, Doc, who passed in March of 2016.

Doc was a red Golden Retriever we adopted from the local Humane Society three days after Christmas in 2005.  Our veterinarian determined his age at 4-5 years old.  Doc had been turned in as a stray.  He was friendly and calm, typical of the breed and his age – and he met our 16-year-old Golden female, Cody, with no issues between them.  His callused elbows suggested days spent in a concrete-floored kennel.  Over the first few days, Doc exhibited some food and water aggression issues, and when scolded, he cringed on the floor, the loose skin of his head furrowed, and eyes squeezed tight, as if waiting for a beating.

Kind treatment and plentiful food and water taught Doc that he could trust, and he overcame the need to fight for his sustenance.  We spent time with him and loved him into our family.  He became the most devoted dog that ever came into my life. He taught me many lessons about how to be a better person.

One morning in 2012, more than six years after his adoption, and about a year after I surrendered my life to Christ Jesus, I watched Doc as he lay on a well-worn spot in the carpeted hallway between the kitchen and bedrooms.  He chose to be either at my feet, or at the edge of the hallway where he could watch my movements throughout the house.  His eyes or ears picked up my every move, and his body was always ready to rise and follow me.  I smiled in gratitude for my dog and his humble example; and I prayed that I would choose to be as attentive, faithful and devoted to the Lord as Doc was to me.

Reading Luke 22 recently reminded me of Doc and his lesson of simple devotion.  In Luke 22:24, the disciples argued about which of them was greatest.

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-27)

I remembered my Doc ever lying nearby, and I had a deeper revelation about how God himself is both master and servant to us.  It humbled me anew that our Lord and Savior came to serve us.  And it saddened me that I so often treat my God like I treated my beloved dog.  I loved my dog, and I cared for him and set aside time for him each day to walk him and spend time with him.  But so often I went about most of my days just knowing he was there and not really paying much attention to him.  I wondered how often I do that with God?  He is the Almighty, yet He will stand by, watching me and just waiting for me to turn to Him so He can engage with me.  I asked myself what has become a regular question since putting my faith in Him: What kind of love is this?!  I am awed and humbled, again, that the God who I try to devote myself to, however imperfectly, is totally devoted to me.  Just as He is devoted to you.

Prodigal

Most of us are familiar with the story of the prodigal son – the young man who demanded his inheritance and squandered everything in wild living.  I had my own version: I discarded the God of my upbringing to a complete lack of belief in anything but my own ability to exert reason and control over the nice life I would give myself.

A few months after I committed my life to Jesus, I prayed thanks to God for a successful surgery a friend had undergone that day.  I also thanked God for bringing the friend and his family into my life – for their example of Jesus’ faithful and gentle love drew me to want to know more about Him, which led to my wanting to know Him more.

I knelt beside my bed in the dark that night (yes, just like a child in a picture), and had a very vivid memory of a recurring dream I had throughout my childhood, and on a few rare occasions as an adult.  The last time I remember having the dream was around the time my Dad died some seven months earlier.  But I had the dream that night while wide awake.

In the dream I am about ten years old, and I have sought solace by wandering the trails of the park at the end of the block I grew up on.  The wooded hills of the park created a bowl that emptied into a grassy expanse of ball-playing fields.  I wandered the trails in the woods and ran in the fields until near dinner time.  Instead of climbing the hill back to our street, I walked the long way around – a trek through the industrial park in the valley, past the supermarket, up a long, steep hill, then down an avenue toward home.  The avenue was one of the beloved streets that filled my childhood city – lined with green tunnels of elm trees that created a cathedral-like effect overhead.  I finally reached my street, turned onto it, and stopped.  My house was not in the middle of the familiar block where it belonged.  My pulse quickened along with my pace as I searched frantically for my house.  How could I be so lost on my own block?  As panic rose, I always awoke.

This time, though, I was already awake, but felt no panic. I wondered why the dream came back so vividly.

I always thought the dream reflected the insecurity I felt growing up with an alcoholic father – never knowing when he came home if Dad would be sober and nice, or drunk and surly.  But on that night, God reminded me of the lost son who eventually came home in shame and humility, and I saw something new in the dream – and then the dream departed forever.

“…. But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick!  Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.  So they began to celebrate.’”  Luke 15:21-24

Such extravagance!  The parable was not about the wayward son, but about the father and his prodigious love poured out in grace and mercy!  I simultaneously laughed and cried with joy, because it is the same extravagance with which God celebrated my coming home to Him, showing me always and only love and forgiveness, joy and acceptance…. showing me that I always belonged to Him and with Him. God pours out such love for each of us.

Separation Anxiety

“But you were already a good person.  You are kind and care about people and give people the benefit of the doubt.  I just don’t get the whole Jesus thing.”

I remember how the weight of those earnest words from my friend shortly after I came to faith in God sat on my heart.  I sighed under the pressure of her statement.  I did not fully get “the whole Jesus thing” myself, so how could I explain it?

I knew intimately my many flaws, but I was usually thoughtful and kind, and I followed all the rules to the best of my ability.  Early in my life I had witnessed and experienced the pain inflicted by loved ones – pain that came from their broken places.  I tried my best to not inflict pain on others – to do the right things. 

My friend knew I had walked away from the God of my Catholic upbringing in early adulthood.  My return to faith came through my horse journey.  I could explain that as I worked through horse fear issues with my trainer, I found that the reaction to fear – disappearing inside myself – came from those childhood triggers of rejection and pain.  My trainer encouraged me to work through those root-cause issues, which I attempted through my lessons and journaling.

Introspection and journaling led me, a level-headed eternal optimist, to the end of myself – a place where the pain of a broken childhood, pain I thought I had gotten over, came crashing in on me.  I realized I had simply walled up my emotions brick by brick over a lifetime, and when they finally broke through, I found myself on the floor, buried by old hurts.  In that damp and musty place awareness dawned that I had been wrong about God.  Icy pellets of realization stung my heart – the heart in which God sowed hope and optimism; the same heart God kept soft toward others, even as I hardened it against Him; the same heart that rejected the God who had always been with me.

Guilt and shame filled me as I sat on the floor and wept.  I cried out to God that I was sorry and was so wrong about Him.  But it was too late.  I knew that. 

But you were already a good person.

It was not about me being a good person.  In fact, it was not about my goodness, at all.  Being a good person could not heal the brokenness inside.

How did I explain that in my place of deep shame and regret, that place of seemingly irreparable brokenness, I felt a comforting weight, as if the Lord stood beside me with His hand on my shoulder?  How did I explain the gentle voice that said, “It’s OK.  You’re here now.”

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)

How did I explain the way my heart knew it was God?  How did I explain that “the whole Jesus thing” began with His relentless pursuit of a rebellious and broken child?  I could not understand nor explain that kind of love to myself, so how could I explain it to another?  I couldn’t explain it, but I received it with gratitude.  No, it had nothing to do with my goodness.  In His goodness, Jesus would not be separated from me.

Leaving the Ninety-Nine

Why Jesus?!

The question leapt from the mouth of someone very dear to me when I revealed my belief in Christ Jesus in 2012.  She suspected that I had changed my mind because either something horrible had happened to me, I had suddenly remembered some traumatic childhood event, I had been brain-washed, or I had simply lost my mind.

You see, I had been an atheist since early adulthood and had suddenly declared my belief in God at 49 years of age.  My conversion happened over the space of nearly two years, but my faith journey occurred over a lifetime – and continues today.

I struggled with my response initially.  My family had known of my unbelief, but I did not often discuss religion and faith with others.  I always figured that most people believe in God, and it was not my responsibility to make them see reason.  I was of the mind to simply agree to disagree.  In my intellectual arrogance, I was not offended by their belief – though I was happy to point out the contradictions in their faith, if they preached at me.

So, when I came to faith in Jesus, it was a radical change – both for me and for other non-believers in my life.

Why Jesus?

Truth is – He chose me.

“What do you think?  If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.  In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”   Matthew 18:12-14

Jesus chose me and pursued me as I first wandered away, and later, dramatically fled.  He pursued me with a relentless love I could not deny, try as I might.  It was only after I felt God’s physical presence, only after I began to seek Him, that I realized He had been pursuing me throughout my life.  Jesus left the ninety-nine for me.  And He will leave the ninety-nine for you, too.