Tara Owens is a beloved granddaughter, daughter, wife, step-mom, grandmother, and aunt. A spiritual director who speaks, writes, and leads retreats, she’s learning to live into enough and out of productivity and perfectionism. She loves good poetry, the Colorado rockies, watching her husband cook, and her rescue dog Baloo. She’s at work on an upcoming book in InterVarsity Press’s Formatio line on spirituality and the body.
If I think about it long enough, concentrate hard enough, I can still feel the cold sweep over me. No matter how warm the day, how many layers I may be wearing, or how bundled I am in blankets, I can feel the chill creep outward, as if it’s simply been living in my bones, ready to freeze me from the outside in.
When they first visited, I went nearly a week feeling frostbitten inside, unable to shake the shivers. When they first visited, in the dawn of a new year, I would have given you a different name than I would call them now. Then, I simply called them nightmares.
Although I’m a woman with a vivid imagination, I’ve never been plagued with night terrors or the inability to get to sleep due to my anxious imaginings. For the most part, I don’t remember my dreams, and when I do, they’re usually pleasant, or simply the working through of last night’s lasagna.
These were different.
Cruelty. Initiation. Hypothermia. Misinterpretation. Abuse.
At night, I had to watch my loved ones suffer, friends die horrible deaths, things that I’d put my hand to, put my life to, turn on me, perverting their very purpose and harming those I held most dear. At night, there was little to no escape from the tyranny. Even when I woke from the dreams, struggling for light and hope, I would fall back into them, pulled down into their dark depths, the storyline picking up almost immediately as I’d left it, a cruel bookmark left in a story I wanted no part in.
During the day, the dreams shadowed me, flirting at the edge of my awareness, tinting my hours with vague dread and irrational uncertainty.
It made no sense.
I’m not one to choose violent movies. I walked out of the theater during a screening of Black Hawk Down—I was sobbing too hard, the story was too real, my soul couldn’t handle the ravages of the real-life tragedy. My husband watches blood-spattered flicks alone; he knows by now that I won’t stick around when graphic death is being portrayed.
So these dreams, these nightmares, connected with nothing I’d seen recently, nothing I’d experienced. I didn’t want to dissect them, I didn’t want to feel them any more—I just wanted them to go away.
But they still followed me.
Eventually, I shared a sketch of these dreams—the feelings, the storylines, the devastation—with a friend.
“They sound… violent,” she said, looking at me.
I confirmed they were, indeed, extremely violent dreams.
And then she asked a question that changed the shape of my year.
“Where has violence been in your life, recently? Where have you reacted violently to something?”
I could name the reaction almost immediately, and the person to whom I reacted. The violence of my response—although completely internal—shocked me at the time. I was at a party, it was someone I didn’t know well, there was no reason for me to react that way. I wrote it off to hormones and a late night.
But here it was again, this time in the form of dreams.
The connection between the dreams and the violent response in my own soul was God’s gentle way of bringing my attention to some unhealed places in my story. And I say gentle, knowing that word goes against everything that I experienced during that week of nightmares. I say gentle, because God knew that I wasn’t going back into that part of my story unless He drew obvious connections for me. I say gentle, because the dreams gave me a clear path into some very tangled and thorny issues, a picture of how wounded and worried I really was deep, deep down. I say gentle, because there was no way for me to deny that something in my soul needed tending—unless I wanted to stick my head back in the sand and pretend that what I’d experienced wasn’t real. He hemmed me in by speaking through my own darkest imagining, hemmed me in so that He could heal me.
Now, nearly half a year into the healing process, I’m grateful for those dark messengers. Not because I would choose them again. Not because I wanted this journey. I’m grateful because sometimes following your dreams means confronting your fears head-on, facing the nightmares and following them the only One who can turn darkness into light, the Cross into the Resurrection. He’s doing that for me, slowly, bit by bit, and I know that new dreams are on the horizon as a result.
Jessica Williams lives in Kansas with her husband, kids, a dog, and a fish. She enjoys spending time with her family, watching Doctor Who, and reading. Jessica blogs about allergen free cooking at Allergen Free Cook and life at Curbing Myself when time allows.
A friend once told me a story from a time in her childhood where, having learned about the momentous strides women made in history, went home to her mom bemoaning “there are no good causes left to fight for.”
I chuckled at the time, but later after changing another diaper, feeding another toddler, and doing yet another load of…well, both dishes and laundry, her precocious school child statement looked more like a glaring fact.
Good grief, how had this happened? I was married. I had kids, in plural! I lived in the midwest! Where was the dramatic, purpose-filled life that resembled Amy Carmichael or Mother Teresa?
An angsty funk set in. For two years I pondered what I was doing. I read just about every book I could find on the purpose of motherhood, because we are supposed to bloom where we are planted, right?
As good and true as those books were, I still mostly felt like a feeding-cleaning-soothing machine. I wouldn’t trade my choices about my kids or staying home with them for anyone else’s life, but I had lost me and that was just as unhealthy. None of the dreams I had imagined for my life were in play, and it was a time of grief and mourning, followed by a space of emptiness.
What to do? In very “me” style, I read. I read real books, books without pictures! It was my first step in getting re-acquainted with myself. And while it was great to feel my brain stretch and flex, it took many books and words before I realized that it might be ok—good even—to dream new, completely different dreams.
But then I read these words by Catherynne Valente that enabled me to move forward: “The wishes of one’s old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes when the world changes. And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets. The trouble is, not everyone can tell when they ought to launder their wishes [...]”.
It was well past time to wash off my wishes. If it had only taken one hard scrubbing, but that was not the case. Getting to know me again, the more adult me, took some time.
But, in doing so, I discovered there are many good, worthy causes left, and I learned which ones I am passionate about. I am passionate about words, words that give life and speak truth because those words build stories that matter.
I have a child with multiple food allergies, so I am passionate about helping other moms find safe, successful, economical ways to feed their families. I am passionate about gender equality that says we are both here to steward and redeem creation and do so in a way that pictures Christ. I am passionate about teaching my children to respect all of Christ’s image bearers, even when they do wrong, and when we disagree.
I am passionate about the Church learning that dealing with gender confusion and sexual identity is more than shining the light on sin and telling the person to go away until they are fixed. It is giving people a safe, loving place to go when they are afraid, lonely and confused, a quiet place where they will be able to hear the Holy Spirit whisper to their hearts.
I am passionate about the Church learning that as long there are neighborhoods where Christians are not a more loving, comforting, secure presence than the local women’s clinic, that horrors like those found in the recent Gosnell trial are likely to continue. I am passionate about teaching my kids these things and more—that the Gospel is found in the gray spaces that are fraught with tension, but that the tension keeps us mindful of our need for grace.
I am not superwoman. I am not a crusader. I am washing off my wishes. Won’t you join me? There are causes left worth fighting for.
Mona Pineda makes time for moongazing and stargazing, daydreaming and labyrinth walking in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The work she does as a missionary, freelance writer, Spiritual Director and Victim’s Advocate allows her to live her dreams and to inspire the dreams of others. Her calling to be a Benedictine Oblate bids her to live with a listening heart and open hands. Mona has six grown children, each one of them her very favorite. She blogs at A Glorious Ruin.
I spent many, many years divorced from my own heart. The circumstances of my life required obedience, rigor, and productivity. It was a hardscrabble black and white life for this tender hearted romantic. There was certainly no room in my life for imagination, creativity or dreaming.
So, out of fear, shame and self preservation, I bound up my dreams and longings and buried them way down deep. I told myself that my heart did not matter. I told myself that keeping the peace and not making waves were more important than anything I wanted or desired. I told myself that I was honoring God by giving up and ignoring the things that I loved most. I told myself that dreams were only for Disney princesses.
But, today I live a ‘pinch me I can’t believe I am doing this’ kind of life. I am living out, leaning into, and learning to trust the desires in my own heart. My life is running over with surprises and adventure. I am learning to dream again.
These days, I have a bucket list of dreams. They are listed on my blog, right out there, bold and ballsy, for the whole world to see. An ever-growing declaration of the desires of my rekindled and adventurous heart. Hike the Camino de Santiago, learn to ride a horse, take tap dancing lessons. I moon and dream about these things. What unbridled joy it is for me to live those dreams, check them off and add more dreams.
Similarly, I carry a tender, fragile unpublished bucket list tucked in the pocket of my heart. These are barely mentionable dreams. Delicate and sacred dreams, very real but hard to articulate. I don’t share those gentle dreams with many. The soul friends who surround and protect my heart hold and guard those dreams with me. These dreams steady and buoy me and keep me balanced.
And there is a third bucket list—a bucket list that I believe our good God has for me. You see, I spent ever so many years fearing and serving a terse, demanding unimaginative god, a god whose favorite word was ‘No!’ It never occurred to me that God might have dreams for me. I just thought God wanted me to sit still, mind my manners, and behave.
But these days, in this life of bucket list living, I am learning to say ‘yes’ to the God who says ‘yes’ to me. I am learning to listen to the invitation and daring of a God who invites me to sail deep and dangerous waters. I am learning to believe in the ‘too good to be true’ wild ideas of a God who invites me into a life of risk and adventure. I am learning to trust the lover of my soul who believes in me and walks beside me in my journey. I want to everyday remember that the God who dreamed me into being has glorious dreams and big ideas for me. A bucket list of dreams, poured out just for me.
So here it is. I know this now: dreams are not just for Disney princesses. Dreams are for glorious ruins like me. And I know this as well. It’s never too late. It’s never too late to live happily ever after.
Nicole Phinney is a digital storyteller, editor, writer, and apprentice spiritual director. Nicole lives and listens in Austin, Texas, and blogs at Small Change.
Found Wanting from Nicole Phinney on Vimeo.
(Music is selected by the contributor and used at their discretion. ABM does not profit from the use of this song.)
Aletheia Schmidt has been making new things from old things for most of her life but it wasn’t until recently, that she began calling herself an artist. Stepping away from the security of a regular paycheck, Aletheia considers herself blessed with the chance of a lifetime to venture into a new season of exploration and deep courage. She is in the midst of pursuing her new found love of painting her prayers and longs for opportunities to share how the arts, imagination, and creativity offer life, teaching and sharing every chance she gets. For more of her work and writings, visit her blog or find her on Twitter. You can also check out herPinterest page, connect on her Facebook page, or go to her Etsy shop.
I’ve had the same dream, several times, always with my eyes open. It includes an old farmhouse, loads of land, and the best-lit-kitchen with an enormous wooden table and me, long hippy hair, welcoming the other. Arms extended, nothing but smiles, and happy hearts. Lots of happy hearts.
I believe in dreams and I believe in the power of reminding ourselves of our dreams. So I painted this picture, with the pond surrounded by weeping willows that will sit in front of my very favorite farm house one day. And I painted the Spirit, coming in powerfully like a rain cloud. And I begged Her to come and invade this place, this space.
*Illustrations in this post are property of Aletheia Schmidt and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from the artist. Please visit the links above for more information or to obtain prints.
Would you like to win some of Aletheia’s artwork? Leave a comment below with your name and anything you’d like to share about what you believe about dreams. We will choose a winner at random on Saturday 5/4 to receive a set of three greeting cards with Aletheia’s original paintings.
Bekah DiFelice is an adventurer, writer, and Jesus-enthusiast. She lives in San Diego, CA, where she rides her Vespa scooter, turns strangers into friends, and continues to work on a secret handshake with her husband Mike. Follow her adventures at the happy ones.
For as long as I can remember, I have been trying to figure out the dream version of my very own life.
In high school and college, I would spend worried nights trying to figure out a dream job so I could plan a class schedule accordingly. The scariest question in the world was, “So, what do you want to do?” That question makes everybody feel like an irresponsible dreamer.
Then, when a devastatingly charming man asked me to be his Mrs., I spent months trying to figure out the color scheme of a dream wedding and the most cost-effective version of a centerpiece. The centerpieces became a sort of nightmare, which is why every dream-wedding really needs a dream-mother-in-law.
Further into adulthood, I had lots of conversations at dinner parties and coffee dates about dream houses or dream wardrobes or dream vacations that could all be admired with varying degrees of optimism. That kind of dreaming was often a form of lust that built camaraderie. It was intent without motion, like eating ice cream while watching The Biggest Loser. I got sick of it after a while, discussing material dreams that didn’t feel personal at all.
I think real dreams, the true and most awakening kind, are vehicles for worship. God invests an idea in us, and we live out a task or purpose that leads back to a sovereign source. It is so very personal, proof that God knows us individually and intimately.
God is the ultimate fisherman, tossing out dream-bait that He uses to reel us back to Himself. When a dream is stripped down and put up to the light, we see it as the articulation of that reeling-in-activity, a method used by the relentless Fisher of Men to bring us into His best for us.
Maybe God gives us dreams to bond us to a bigger story, to remind us that each dream is connected to the reel in his hand.
Dreams also give our faith necessary specificity, providing a topic of conversation with a really big God. They give our life direction, showing us what these hands, these finances, and these pockets of time were created for. He asks us to worship and then puts a tool in our hand to say, “This is how.”
God is faithful that way. He provides the very currency for this worship-exchange.