In October, my sister Erica went on a short term mission trip to a children’s home in Haiti. She cared for the children there while one of the nannies went home on furlough. She had been there before and was very much anticipating being with the children again.
As I watched her pack her suitcases and prepare for being out of the country, I found myself thinking back to my own globe-trotting days with a sense of longing. Then, when she returned home with her many stories of the poverty of Haiti and the needs there, I thought again of my desire as a teenager to be a foreign missionary.
I wonder sometimes why God does not allow those who want to go, to be able to serve him as a missionary. Then there are those who have the physical capabilities, but do not want to give up the comforts of home. Or those who are sent, but say, “God, it’s the wrong country! I wanted to serve those people over there!” Seems ironic.
But then perhaps we depend too much on our own desires to interpret God’s will for our lives. There are many different ways God can use us if we are willing to give up our own will.
Several months ago, I was asked to write a guest article for Daughters of Promise, a ladies’ e-zine, on the topic of surrendering our dreams to God. It was good for me to write this article because I felt it helped me to face some of my own struggles and be able to surrender my dreams more completely to God.
I decided to share this article with you… because I know many of you have faced this same struggle of giving up your dreams.
You can also click here to read it on page 28 of the NovDec issue of Daughters of Promise. I thought Rachel did a wonderful job with the graphics and they have lots of articles that are worth reading!
The Perfect Dream
Definition of a dream: A condition or achievement that is longed for; an aspiration
As little girls, we grow up dreaming of our future. We have dozens of things on our list to be, “When I grow up.” As we get older, those childish dreams evolve as we discover our talents and interests. We are encouraged to follow our dreams and let no one stop us.
But what if God does?
What if the doors we long to have opened stay firmly closed or worse yet, slam in our faces, just as our feet reach the threshold.
As a teenager, my ambitions were so numerous I would have accumulated quite a few years before I had achieved them all. I love children. I have a passion for teaching and I love the challenge of special education. In my younger years, my family spent six years as missionaries in Belize, CA and throughout my life; my parents have fostered a love of missions. I wanted to marry, someday, and have about six kids; but after I accomplished a few other things.
I had plans for my life, and many of them were being realized.
Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one, I took six, short term mission trips, enrolled in three terms of Bible School, taught two years of school, took photography classes and did a lot of socializing with my friends.
I had hopes of getting more education and then possibly going to a deaf school in El Salvador as a teacher.
I was busy, probably too busy, but I was pursuing my dreams.
And then those hopes and dreams were shattered by a very unladylike seizure. At church no less! As the EMTs wheeled me through the double doors of our church that cool November evening, I remember thinking, “Well Lord, What now?”
The months that followed were frustrating. No one seemed to know what was wrong with me. I did test after test and tried several doctors. All the while I was growing more and more sick and also discouraged. I really didn’t have time to be sick! I needed things to be figured out and then I could move on with my dreams!
God had much to teach me.
Within seven months’ time, I went from being a busy elementary school teacher to an invalid, spending 90% of my time in a hospital bed set up in my family’s living room and depending on a wheel chair for transportation. I dealt with excruciating pain that no amount of drugs or massaging could relieve. My mind began to betray me as my memory and ability to hold or follow conversations started to decline.
I was eventually diagnosed with late stage neurological Lyme and God miraculously provided a doctor. “Now!” I thought to myself. “I’ll take these meds, I’ll do whatever they tell me to do and then I can get back to my life.” But my journey with illness was far from over.
The treatment had extreme side effects. Some medications gave me severe nausea, another would make my teeth hurt, while still another caused my skin to become extremely sensitive to the point I couldn’t stand for even a sheet to brush against me. Once a medication caused such an extreme hurx-heimer reaction that I spent ten days in the hospital with uncontrollable seizures. But I pushed on with a determination I didn’t know I possessed. I had to get well!
But as the months passed I began to realize that I needed to let go of my dreams for my future. Life was passing me by and God was obviously closing those doors. He had a new purpose for me and that was to be sick. I fought this for quite some time.
“God!” I cried, “these are good dreams, things that would further your kingdom! Why must I give them up? I wanted to be a missionary, why would you make me sick?” But finally one night I took my notebook and began to write out each of my dreams and give them back to God. The dreams for the future were difficult to give up, but not as hard as the things that affected me right then such as giving up my classroom, watching my friends move on in life, and losing my independence.
“God,” I prayed, “If I must give up my dreams, then you dream for me. My life is yours.” I found a verse during this time that continues to be very special to me; “I cry out to God most high, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” Psalm 57:2
At long last the harsh treatments began to pay off and I began the slow recovery process. I cautiously entered a world that, to my surprise, had been spinning on its axis quite well without me. It was difficult; trying to find “my place” again. But I accepted a job as an aide a school and once again began to immerse myself in education
The following year I agreed to teach a small class of three first graders and one third grader. I was excited about it, but also rather nervous. While I was doing quite well, I continued to have “flares” every so often as well as constant pain. Though my brain fog was getting better, I knew it would be a challenge, and I hoped I would be reliable.
Then after almost two years of being seizure free, they invaded my life again. I was devastated! I took a 10 week leave of absence from school and someone else took on the task of teaching my precious students the things I wanted to teach them. What should I do now? Should I give up my job entirely? What was best for my students? They’d already witnessed a petit mal, when I’d fallen from my chair one day. Was it fair to put them in these situations? I struggled with God’s timing. I thought I’d been following His will when I accepted the teaching job. Had I misunderstood?
The struggle to give up my dream of finishing the school year was just as intense as when I’d gone through my list of long range goals and given them to God. Finally, I felt at peace. God had a plan, even though I didn’t know what it was.
Near the end of December, 2012, I began to feel much better. It was as if someone had flipped a switch and the next six months were the healthiest and happiest I’d had in years. I finished my school year and agreed to teach again. My summer was filled with plans of traveling and projects to tackle.
After eight amazing weeks of summer vacation, reality struck a hard blow. My boyfriend, Joe, and I were sitting at a park when I became chilled and began to shake. We got up to leave but my back was jerking hard enough that I had difficulty walking to the car. We headed for home, but I was already twisting and jerking in the passenger seat. Ten minutes after we arrived home, I was in a full blown seizure and the nightmare began all over again. Those same feelings of despair and needing to release “my plans” to His will returned.
Another hospital stay, but this time things were different. Through another miraculous turn of events, it was discovered that I had developed Dystonia within the past year. Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes the muscles to contract and spasm involuntarily and was possibly caused by the brain infection.
Dystonia is incurable but treatable. Triggers may happen at any time. At first this diagnosis was devastating to me.
It seemed the only word to penetrate my brain. Although I had given up my dreams long ago and had asked God to dream for me, things had been going so well with my health that I realized I had dared to plan my life again.
It felt as if God was saying, “Wait a minute, Andrea, You gave ME the right to that remember!?” Yes, I was remembering all too clearly. Dystonia is so unpredictable and I was learning how to be flexible in a whole new way.
The saying goes: “To accomplish great things we must dream.” Long ago Florence Nightingale dreamt of clean hospitals with trained nurses. She pursued that dream through much opposition but, because of her courage, I, for one have benefited greatly!
So is it wrong to dream of great things? No, I don’t think so. However we must be certain follow God’s will and not our own desires.
Sometimes God allows things in our lives to prepare us for something much greater than we could imagine. For a long time I hung on to my “perfect dream” bemoaning the fact that it was now impossible for me to accomplish. But when I am honest with myself, if I had my health and energy back and my doctor gave me permission to travel anywhere I wanted, those dreams I’ve held so tightly would not even be what I wanted. I would probably pursue some type of hospital ministry with children. Because of the journey on which God sent me, I can relate to patients facing illness and life changing diseases much better than I would be able to relate to a deaf child.
But who knows? Maybe God doesn’t have that type of ministry in mind for me either.
A friend once sent me a card with the verse, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:5”
I struggled with this verse for a long time. I knew what my desires were, and they were not being realized. How could this verse be true? But someone challenged me to think of what my utmost desire is. Would it not be to glorify God? If I could be joyful in everything then God could be glorified and the desire of my heart would be met.
As Christians, our ultimate purpose is to bring Glory to God. That should be our goal. If we are open to these opportunities, God will send them our way. We just need to learn to look for them. I’ve learned to find fulfillment in school. I dearly love my little class of six students, and enjoy finding creative ways to teach them practical skills and spiritual truths. I also have a weekly devotional period with the high school girls that has been a blessing and challenge to me. I can’t count the number of times my illness has opened the door to show God’s love to other hurting people.
So does God have something for me to do? Absolutely. Am I serving Him the way I’d always dreamed? Perhaps not exactly, but if the end result is the same than who am I to argue?
What about God’s dreams for me? I can say I’ve been delightfully surprised at his blessings. Not only has He allowed me to pursue my passion of teaching, but He’s also given me a great team of co-teachers who go out of their way to help me fulfill this dream. My family is amazingly supportive and will do anything they can to help me complete a project. God also sent a really awesome young man named Joe into my life about 18 months ago. Joe loves me for who I am, seizures, awkward walking, wheelchair, cane and all. He considers it his life’s mission to help me accomplish whatever opportunities God sends my way. And since he’s good at so many things, I think it will be interesting to see what kind of opportunities they are!
Do you have dreams for the future that seem to be dashed time and again? Look around and notice the opportunities that God gives you. Make that your dream. And perhaps someday you will realize that the dream of your heart was to simply be useful in His kingdom.
As the article states, it seems we must deal with these struggles over and over again. I’d love to hear some of your comments about surrendering your dreams to God. What is something that is helpful to you?