It was a rough night of restless sleep filled with nightmares that I’m thankful I can’t remember. Lyme treatment sometimes causes nightmares because of the buildup of toxins. I’m not sure now what was so terrible about the dreams but I literally woke myself up declaring out loud something to the tune of, “get behind me, Satan!” It was one of those dreams where you know you’re dreaming and are trying desperately to peel open your eyes and wake up to remove yourself from the nightmare but it takes an agonizing amount of time and effort to do so. And then every time you doze off again you go right back into the dream. Finally, I just got up because I didn’t want to go back to sleep.
I had already planned on writing about dreams of a different kind… the plans we make for ourselves that we think will make us happy/successful/comfortable. I have to tell you, the loss of those kind of dreams over the last few years has felt light a nightmare. I really couldn’t stand that verse in Psalm 37, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (vs 4). Granted, I haven’t been very delightful lately, but I used to be. Why were all the desires of my heart ripped away? And you may not even want to get me started on Jeremiah 29:11, “‘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.'” I often feel like I’ve lost my future and all the hope that should come with it.
Besides the loss of my career, which I think may rank in the number one spot, one of the most difficult things has been the loss of music. I grew up with a microphone in hand. I think I was somewhere in the 3-5 age range when my mom made my sister and I matching outfits and we sang “Grownup Christmas List.” My sister is 12 years older than me so I’m not sure what she thought about the wardrobe, but I do remember singing with her. And playing the piano was my stress relief. I would come home from school and play piano to relieve stress, pass time, or lose myself in the music. When I got better at piano, I started playing for church services all through high school. I even played for some weddings and funerals, though I can’t imagine ridding myself of enough anxiety to do that again. When I learned guitar in college, I started leading worship. I went to an assisted living facility and helped lead their Wednesday services and I even went back after college to do solo concerts for those beloved people. I was a regular part of praise teams and choirs until the anxiety hit, and then illness shattered the hope of that happening again.
It’s not that I particularly enjoy being in front of people. I don’t know exactly how to explain it but there’s just something natural to me about singing into a microphone, especially singing harmony with other people. I felt at home there, and now I feel a little lost. And on top of losing stage singing, it seems that I have now lost corporate worship altogether. Lyme has made me so sensitive to sound, motion, and electromagnetic frequencies, that I cannot handle being in church anymore. It’s a loss I tried to pretend not to feel for awhile, trying to convince myself that I didn’t want to go anyway. I have a habit of saying things like that in an attempt to protect my heart. Yesterday I forced myself to play piano for awhile until the blood pooled in my feet and dizziness incapacitated me. It had been ages since I even bothered to play piano or guitar, and I rarely ever even sing around the house anymore. It is true what they say about depression – one of the signs is loss of interest in the things you used to love. I just haven’t cared about music for awhile. And I think part of me was avoiding music because I didn’t want to be reminded of the loss. Imagine doing something for pretty much your whole life, something you felt like you were born to do, and then not being able to do it anymore. It’s a loss I’ve tried to avoid facing, but I think I must do so in order to heal.
I delighted in singing to God… but the desires of my heart were taken from me. What gives? First of all, I don’t believe that verse means exactly what we want it to mean. The way I understand it now is that, if we are truly delighting ourselves in the Lord, the desires of our heart will match His. We will want only what He wants for us even if that means letting go of what we want for ourselves. He will give us His dreams for our lives. How cool is that? I’m certain God’s dreams are much more beautiful than mine. But that doesn’t mean that He won’t hold me while I mourn the loss of mine.
After I finally studied Jeremiah 29 more thoroughly a couple years ago, I stopped being quite so miffed by it and actually started relating to it a little. God basically tells His people to set up shop while in exile because they’re going to be there for awhile. He tells them they might as well hunker down and even pray for prosperity for the cities in which they are in captivity because they’re going to be there for 70 years. That just does not sound very hopeful to my human ears. But part of the prosperity and hope for a future lies with how we wait. God wants us to stop wishing away our current circumstances, pining away at our own dreams, and start living our lives now. Later in Jeremiah, God talks about His rescue of the people from exile. “They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord…They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more… I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (31:12,13). God often uses water and rain as a metaphor for his faithfulness. Water is eroding and destructive, but it is also refreshing, healing, and growing, washing away the unnecessary stuff we only think we need. So the longer we wait, the more growth and healing we get.
We cling so hard to the things we want in this life to the point where we are lost when those things leave us. I could, have, and probably still will, lose hope for future dreams. Because, after all, why would I hope for something when it could crush my heart again? But this nightmare of dream-clinging despair has got to end with a hearty, “get behind me, Satan”. Despair is where he wants me. But my Almighty God crushes Satan with hope for me. Amazing. I need to peel my eyes open out of the nightmare, awakening to God’s beautiful dreams for me. Because, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21). And the Lord’s purpose is far better than mine.
When the depression veil lifts a tiny bit, I love to ask God to help me dream with Him. I have a list of things I want to do, things that I would do if I had no illness, fear, or limits. These things may or may not happen, but I am learning to hold them loosely now, allowing God to bring about His dreams for my life even if they don’t exactly match mine. My dreams have changed quite drastically since my illness and many of them probably look quite small and ordinary. My period of waiting is actually resetting my priorities. It can be fun to let God give us dreams if we will let Him. So, what would you do if you had no limitations whatsoever?
Here’s my current list: Go to the beach, Go hiking, Have a garden, Write a book, Go back to Haiti, Move out of this condo, See Dolly Parton in concert, See the Brooklyn Tabernacle choir, Sing into a microphone again, Dance for any length of time without becoming dizzy or breathless, Drive, Participate in service projects, Speak about what God has done, Record the songs God gave me, Look people in the eye without shame or fear.
Song I’m feeling: Dreams I Dream for You, by Avalon
“The dreams I dream for you are deeper than the ones you’re clinging to, more precious than the finest things you knew and truer than the treasures you pursue. Let the old dreams die like stars that fade from view. Then take the cup I offer and drink deeply of the dreams I dream for you.”