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On Dreams, and Keeping Them Alive

Gods-gift-to-usThere is a scene in my first novel, The Resurrection, when my protagonist, the dim-witted but earnest Pastor Ian Clark, trashes something very important to him. It’s a plaque with the words Follow Your Dreams. The words were burned into the wooden plaque by his sister to commemorate Clark’s ordination into pastoral ministry. But after a failed marriage and a failed church — and his sister’s tragic death —  Clark’s “dreams” are shipwrecked. So he removed the plaque from the wall, carried it out back, and apologized to his sister as he tossed the memento into the trash can. Along with his other dreams.

The scene is blatantly symbolic. And very personal.

When the church I was pastoring disbanded back in 1997, numerous dreams went with it. My “call to the ministry” had come quickly, but prematurely. I was a talented guy, artistic, literary; but I’d squandered my gifts, meandering through various creative outlets without passion, persistence, or a sense of purpose. So when the opportunity came to help others grow spiritually, to develop as a teacher and spiritual mentor, to serve and inspire others, I saw God’s hand in it and responded.

Indeed, for a while the ministry fulfilled my yearning to create, to inspire, to grow. But the rigors of church life and my own sin and immaturity frayed the edges of inspiration. What had started as a “dream” got pummeled by reality until, after 11 years, it all just caved.

And like Pastor Ian Clark, I simply chucked it all.

A “dark night of the soul” followed. I was a failure. My dreams were just illusions. I was destined for mediocrity. After 3-4 years of wallowing and wasted time, writing rekindled that spark. It started small — a short story contest. An Honorable Mention. An unexpected offer to join an online writers group. And things sort of snowballed. The “dream” was rekindled.

Mind you, my “dream” was not to be a writer. Or an artist. Or a teacher. Or a pastor. My dream was just to use what God had given me; to not bury my talent. To reach as high as I possibly could in this life. My “dream” is to hear the Master say, on that final day, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Shortly after I became a Christian (in 1980), I framed the saying pictured above.

What we are is God’s gift to us. What we make of ourselves, is our gift to God.

Pretty hokey, huh? I’d read it somewhere and was inspired enough by the sentiment to inscribe it for my own. I realize that the theology is a bit screwy. I mean, can we ever really make something of ourselves apart from God? But it was that idea of maximizing my talents, taking the “clay” that God had commissioned to me and molding it into something I — and HE — could be proud of.

And here’s the thing: Pursuing a career in writing can crush your dreams. The competition. The critique. The unfairness. The massive amounts of time you must invest to even get a sniff. And the rejection. It breaks my heart to hear writers give up on their “dreams” in frustration. Mind you, a career in writing isn’t for everyone. Perhaps being honest about your talents, or lack thereof, is a good thing that can help you discern where your real talents lie. Whatever the case — what hurts is the death of a dream.

Dreams, like flowers, are fragile and often must be crushed to release their scent.

Whatever your dream is, let me encourage you to keep at it. Sure, that could mean trashing one pursuit in favor of another. But in the process —  whether your dream is to be a writer, an artist, a pastor, a whatever — let me encourage you to aim higher.

Perhaps the best dreams are not those that rest in an accomplishment, achievement, or a career, but in the simple objective to use what God has given us to make something better of ourselves.

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Lenne McKinley November 17, 2014, 7:26 AM

    Thank you.

  • Matthew Sample II November 17, 2014, 8:40 AM

    “My dream was just to use what God had given me; to not bury my talent.”

    “Perhaps the best dreams are not those that rest in an accomplishment, achievement, or a career, but in the simple objective to use what God has given us to make something better of ourselves.”

    Thank you.

  • Nicole November 17, 2014, 8:58 AM


  • Heather Day Gilbert November 17, 2014, 9:04 AM

    Thanking God for renewed dreams…for dreams we hold onto with a tenacious grip, even in the face of flat-out opposition, because we know that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. Glad you held on, Mike.

  • David N. Alderman November 17, 2014, 9:12 AM

    This piece of encouragement is exactly what I needed to hear today, Mike. We must never give up on our dreams, no matter how difficult ‘life’ gets.

  • Justin Huggins November 17, 2014, 9:40 AM

    Awesome, I may have to steal “What we are is God’s gift to us. What we make of ourselves, is our gift to God.” and stencil it on my office wall.

    In the past two years I’ve given up on the dream of being in ministry to pursue a calling of writing. The good thing is that I have a day job, a good one.

    The best part is now I can freely write as many books as I can knowing that if a single one never gets published, I still did it in pursuit of God’s calling.

    There is freedom there.

  • Kat Heckenbach November 17, 2014, 10:32 AM

    Funny, I was taking a break from writing my own blog post about how I am ready to give up my dream of being an author when I saw your link to this on Facebook. Sigh. I keep reading all these things, and listening to inspirational talks, in hopes of lifting my spirits on this. But it’s having the opposite effect.

    I want so badly to do well with the talents God’s given me. But I feel that I’m expected to rely on talents I do *not* have in order to be successful at writing. Namely marketing. It’s not laziness (if you could see all the things I’ve done, the speaking engagements I’ve had, the ones I’ve *tried* to get, the craft fairs I’ve worked, online giveaways, social media, guest blog posts, etc), but rather my logic getting in the way. I understand why marketing is important, but the idea that a writer’s success is more reliant on their marketing skills than their writing skills these days is enough to make me want to walk away.

    What’s really getting me, though, is why I’m doing this at all. As I said above, I feel that God has gifted me with a talent. Well, several, actually. Writing, drawing, and teaching.

    I never outright pursued a career in art, and have never felt like I’ve failed because of that. I honestly, in many ways, believe God gave me that gift for me. I’ve used it for making things for myself and for my loved ones. It’s much more personal, although I do want to push more with it, like entering contests and such. But I’m not looking to make art my career.

    Teaching has been and continues to be a career of sorts for me. I’ve worked as a teacher, and now homeschool. The one part of the non-writing side of writing that I love is teaching. The problem: I’m seriously beginning to get a feeling that there’s a strong “those who can, do / those who can’t, teach” vibe going on in the writing world. Not that there aren’t great writers who are great teachers, but it’s sort of the default: if your writing career isn’t taking off, start teaching about writing. I feel like I’m amid a sea of writer-teachers, and the world doesn’t need one more.

    Which brings me to writing itself, and circles back to what I was saying initially. This IS something I’ve wanted as an actual career, but I’m simply not seeing the signs that /God/ wants this /of/ me. I have a small crew of people who are incredibly supportive and encouraging, and for that I’m IMMENSELY grateful. But seven years in, and I’m burnt out–that is, burnt out on all the non-writing stuff and wanting so badly to go back to writing with passion.

    • Justin Huggins November 17, 2014, 10:52 AM

      Maybe it is irresponsible or even naive of me to be excited about writing when I don’t have a thing published. Written, but not published.

      But I believe there could be a rebirthing for Chrstian writers and readers.

      I write what you and Mike call Christian horror (if there is such a thing) and find blogs like yours and Mikes profoundly encouraging. You two have been in the trenches, you’re seasoned veterans and to a newbie like myself you’re helping me stay grounded with the reality of writing.

      However, I still feel that God has gifted you, Mike, me, and many others and our burden is to share that gift.

      Not get all “bible” on you, but the Lord said…

      You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit-fruit that will last…John 15:16

      Where there is no vision (plan), the people perish… Proverbs 29:18

      If I commit to the Lord whatever I do, He will establish my plans… Proverbs 16:3

      For He knows the plans He has for me, He plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to gives me hope and a future…Jeremiah 29:11

      I know that I can do ALL things through Him who gives me strength…Phillippians 4:13

      I will help you speak and will teach you what to say… Exodus 4:12

      The Lord has told me that He has opened a door for me that no one can close and because I have obeyed His command to persevere, He will protect me…Revelation 3:8,10

      For NO word from God will EVER fail…Luke 1:37

      So, what will you do now that you know you can not fail?

      • Kat Heckenbach November 17, 2014, 7:58 PM

        Justin, that is one awesome reply.

        And I realized I’ve been the voice of negativity in a few conversations this weekend. I think I’m hitting the end-of-year burn-out in a lot of things! I need to let myself take some time off and re-energize.

  • Kerry Nietz November 17, 2014, 10:47 AM

    An encouraging missive from one of my favorite curmudgeons–awesome. Well said, Mike. 😉

  • Mark Luker November 18, 2014, 10:03 AM

    very encouraging read!

  • Merrie Destefano November 18, 2014, 10:29 AM

    Great post, Mike!

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