Growing up, I watched my mom model what it meant to be a happy homemaker. Among other “good things,” she was a good cook. No amount of fancy restaurant food could render me more satiated than her fried chicken with homemade smashed potatoes, as we used to call them, white gravy and home-grown corn. First Peter 4:9 says we should offer hospitality without grumbling. Mom’s unspoken translation: grumbling included vapored, boring, time-wasting apologizes to drop-in company about the state of the house (it’s all about ME), rather than investment in the warm welcome and well being of those in it.
With this happy, relaxed and affirming upbringing, becoming a mom like my mom was my Dream. A dream that came true nearly right out of high school when I married at eighteen. Sure, I had to take on a job to help make ends meet. Yes, we began to have our share of problems after our oldest was born eleven months after the wedding. But still, I felt my dream was riding high for four years—right up until the relationship fell apart and ended in divorce.
What happened to my dream? Was God still with me after that?
The last couple years, while writing and editing Finding Our Way Home, I “lived with” two fictional characters whose individual dreams—visions for how their lives should and would play out—also shattered. I felt their hope, rode the shiny waves of their successes and joy, then crumbled inside when things fell apart for them. I could relate—almost a little too well!
Sometimes I compare being a writer to a parent vicariously living through her children. When my son wrestled in high school, I was often shocked, SHOCKED, to discover I had no mat burns on my cheeks at the end of a gruesome match! It was the same when I completed writing a few of Evelyn and Sasha’s heartbreaking scenes. I needed to look into a mirror just to separate myself from the character whose skin I’d been living in all those writing hours. Often, tears were streaming down my cheeks too, not just those of my characters.
What I learned from my characters (I don’t outline, I story chase and listen real close, write what I “see” them do in a film that runs in my head), is that no matter what, a simple ongoing prayer for “Grace, Amen” is potent. Thank you, Lord, for giving me Sasha and Evelyn, two women who reminded me--taught me--so much about grace. With their antennae up, and through the anointed power of small, relentless acts of love given and received within their uncommon friendship, their new dreams began to emerge. Dreams based on the whispers and promise of a God who says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV.
But how do we tell our dreams for our lives from those of our creator? What are the spiritual implications of our failed determination and endless pining for “our” dream, our vision, our heart’s desires? What does it mean when dreams are deferred, or lost? What if we’re planning for the wrong future, not the one God has in mind?
Is it then, in the middle of loss, that we most tune in, surrendered, at long last willing to have it God’s way? Or is it just possible that everything else we thought was our dream—the pining, the vision, maybe even the fulfillment of such—was Step One of preparation for what God wanted next for our lives, complete with a learning curve about humility? Isn’t it then when we bow down and depend upon God’s promise to make good on the years the locust have eaten? [Joel 2:25] When my dream, my marriage, crumbled before my eyes, what else was there for me to do, other than turn to the God who loves me?
For the next two years after my divorce, my son and I traveled a rough lonely road, God holding our hands all the while. Little by little, we found our way and began to heal. By God’s grace, I remarried. Another beautiful boy arrived, an occasional part-time this or that for sanity and a few extra bucks…. Restoration!
But as life would have it, in a fingersnap, my baby was in high school. For the first time, I began to feel the pull and tug of, now what? I had no plan, no career, no alternative Dream. Although I’d started playing with poetry and essays, the negative voices of my high school English teachers (notice not the voice of the Holy Spirit) rang loud and clear: You, a writer? HA! C-minus on this paper. D on that spelling test. I had to sharpen my red pencil three times to get through that paper! And yet, the more I wrote, the more I loved writing, and the more folks in the writing workshop I attended connected with my heart and humor. The more they connected, the more I began to sense the whispers of the Holy Spirit beckoning me to be brave and cast down doubt.
Before long—and before I was ready—I began writing a community column for a local newspaper. Then feature stories, then articles for other papers. Even though English classes weren’t “my gifts,” it turns out storytelling was. WHO KNEW God had a plan for my life, one I never saw coming? I can assure you it is true: God uses the least among us! Nothing other than the mystery and power of the Almighty could explain my surprise “career.” I even went on to write magazine articles, and now I write books. My 16th book (ninth novel) is the one I’m herewith referring to that taught me so much more about grace and dreams. Astonishing. Grace.
I am living a dream as an author. I am living God’s utterly surprising plan for my life, a dream that came more into focus after I lost my first dream (outgrew it, you might say), cast down negativity, revved up perseverance, and kept my God antennae up, ready to say yes to opportunities he brought my way.
Who knew that even my most horrible parenting experiences, my most embarrassing moments, and all the best, shiny, sparkling slices of grace I’ve experienced—and continue to receive—would become the very things I write about, whether that be in this article, or through the lives of characters like Sasha and Evelyn? Who knew God’s plan for my life was to mold my very average English grades and love for story into a career I never dreamed about?
As we strive to follow Christ with all our hearts and all our might--as we fall short, crumble and lose our dreams, then struggle to “dream up” new ones--perhaps the biggest thing we fail to do is to stand strong when “our dreams” feel like they’re fading away. We often don’t take enough time to consider that God’s plan for our best is better than what we can even imagine, so different than what we might see for ourselves, that we miss it when it arrives, or let out insecurities and old voices from the past hold us back.
It should never be “My way or the highway!” In the end, for our very best, it’s God’s dreams done his way. Isaiah 43:19 says, Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. God antennae up, watch for it!
Excerpted from Finding Our Way Home by Charlene Ann Baumbich Copyright © 2012 by Charlene Ann Baumbich. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Charlene Ann Baumbich is the author of the Dearest Dorothy series, Stray Affections, and Divine Appointments, as well as several nonfiction books of humor and inspiration. She is also a popular speaker, an award-winning journalist, and lives with her husband in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Her latest novel is Finding Our Way Home (WaterBrook Press, March 2012).