This is a story about dreams, and it starts here: Over the weekend, my husband and I went with our oldest son to register for college.
Even just typing that sentence represents a lifetime of dreams I had all but given up on at one point in my life. But this is not a story about cancer, and what it cost me, or even about marriage or parenthood. This is a story about passion and calling and desires. As I said from the beginning, this is a story about dreams.
As we walked across the campus of Huntington University on that beautiful spring morning, we could easily imagine our son thriving there. It’s just the beginning for him, and for all the students who were there choosing classes and deciding on dorms and planning for the rest of their lives.
Parents were allowed accompany their students to many of the weekend activities, but rightly, the students sometimes went alone. No parents allowed. We were comfortable with that. Every day we’re negotiating that balance ourselves: when to press in and when to pull back. And I’m not just talking about freedom and curfews and decisions. I’m still talking about dreams. His. Ours.
Colleges seem to run on dreams. If it weren’t for the visions of the future that students and parents have, there’d be many fewer reasons to go to college. For some, college itself is the dream. We met one mom whose son was the first of her kids to go to college, and maybe the first in his family. He was coming on a full-ride sports scholarship, living the dream his family and coaches had dangled in front of him for years. For other students, college is the next step in achieving their dreams. We met another family whose daughter dreams of being a 2D animator. She’d only recently begun to dabble in visual arts after years of training to be a ballerina. Her new dream had brought her to Huntington specifically for their Digital Media Arts program.
The presentations by administrators and faculty throughout the weekend honed in on this idea that this was a place where students could not only find themselves, but also God, and in the process could discern his calling, his good work for them. Both now and in the future. Students would have mentors and advisers building into them, encouraging them, and teaching them to listen to the voice of God guiding them in the way they should go.
Near the end of our time on campus, we were all heading to the bookstore, our son’s mom and her fiance walking just ahead of Nicholas, and Steve and I bringing up the rear.
“This weekend has made me want to come here,” I said.
“Me, too,” Steve said, squeezing my hand.
“Dad and I are going to come to college with you,” I called out to Nicholas who was just far enough ahead that he hadn’t heard us talking.
“Me, too,” his mom said. And we all laughed, mostly because we realized that left her fiance to support us all. But also because the idea was absurd: all of us—parents and children of our complex stepfamily—in college together. That’s not really what we were longing for. Not college with its 8 a.m. classes and community bathrooms and dining hall dinners that all begin to taste the same after a semester or two. We weren’t after pulling all nighters and writing 20-page papers. (Well, they weren’t. I think a 20-page paper sounds exhilarating.)
No, it wasn’t college and the idea that we could go back and do it all over again that had seduced us. It was the dreams.
In her book The Sound of a Million Dreams, author Suanne Camfield writes about a specific season in her life that God used to draw her out of the busyness and chaos of life in the 21st century and into a posture of presence and attending. She calls it the Stirring, and she describes it like this:
I’d say the Stirring was a moment: an awareness of the holy in the midst of the everyday that simultaneously brought clarity and chaos to my space in the world. A feeling: a perpetual pressing, pushing, and pulling that happened and continues to happen all at once, a mystery not unlike the way we say the kingdom of God is both now and not yet, both here and yet to come, both within us and among us, that was compelling me to do something. A vision: a pathway for the future whose specifics I couldn’t catch sight of but was certain existed nonetheless. A longing: an ache to offer a piece of myself to the world that held within it the smallest hope of leaving a mark. An invitation: a solicitation to view life through a new lens, a kindling that burned so deeply I’d spent the next ten years trying to figure it out.
Perhaps this Stirring is what we felt walking along the sidewalk of our son’s future college campus. And how easy it would be to relegate the longing, the dreams, to the young people. It’s true they’re launching out into a miraculous existence that we’ve been training them for their whole lives. There should be dreams involved. But if we quiet our hearts and listen, God is at work in all of our lives, stirring up dreams and longings that we hardly dare to even whisper.
- Even at age 25, when you’re working at a factory because the career you went to college for didn’t pan out.
- Even at age 35, when you finally have your life together: the marriage, the kids, the career. But something still feels like it’s missing.
- Even at age 45, when you are staring down the second half of life wondering if you’ve wasted the first half caught in the hamster wheel.
- Even at age 55, when the grandkids are the joy of your life but the 401k isn’t nearly as big as you’d hoped it would be.
- Even at age 65, when the Social Security checks starts rolling in and your daily agenda includes little more than watching Rachael Ray and feeding the cat.
- Even at age 75, when you’ve buried your best friend and can no longer drive and your life has been reduced to a single room in your oldest son’s house.
- Even at age 85, when you don’t even get out of bed most days and you wonder why you’re still here.
I felt this Stirring there at the school of dreams where everyone has a bright and shiny future. But I brought the gift home with me, too, back to my days of care-taking and carpooling and coordinating six schedules. These longings and dreams, they aren’t just about planning a great vacation or making an exciting career change. We shouldn’t confuse them for wanderlust and ambition, though there might be a little of both in me. In fact, the specific thing we’re dreaming about may not be the thing we really want at all.
Instead, we follow these dreams down the path of desire, where the thing we most want is satisfied only in Jesus. James Martin, author of The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, says it like this: “… desire is a key way that God’s voice is heard in our lives. And ultimately our deepest desire, planted within us, is our desire for God.”
I’m not actually planning to go to college with our son (much to his great relief). But I am going to keep dreaming, and I’m going to keep following those deepest longings as far as they take me until, like Augustine, my restless heart finds my rest in Him.