His feet are clay.
As has ever been true of kings.
Some might say there is nothing in this to grieve. Nothing to cause fear. Certainly no reason for surprise.
What was true of Daniel’s king, was true of David, and true of Solomon, too. Has, in fact, been true of every man or woman to whom we have bowed or pledged our allegiance.
But I have heard the bitter weeping of the envoys of peace, and I am not satisfied with explanations or arguments or platitudes.
I go on dreaming. I go on singing. I go on telling tales of a better king.
This king “will take pity on the weak and the needy.”
This king will “defend the afflicted among the people.”
This king will “will be like showers watering the earth.”
My eyes have seen the king in his beauty.
I have glimpsed a land that stretches afar.
It is a peaceful abode and a place of broad rivers and streams.
No galley with oars rides them. In this place, even the lame carry off plunder.
Because the loaves and fishes are ever being broken and passed on, they multiply. Because the jar of oil is always being emptied, that jar is never dry. There is more than enough for me and my neighbor.
There is even enough for my enemy.
This is the song I sing, yet I cannot always be singing.
When I pause my song, when I wake, or when my story reaches its end, I weep.
I weep because the king we hold in our hands falls so very short of the king who ever walks on the edge of my dreams.
I sit by the river, and I weep when I remember all that I have seen. I weep when I remember the prayer of generations:
Thy kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven.
*my own song is inspired by Psalm 72, Psalm 137, and Isaiah 33
You were made for the impossible thing.
You were made for the goal you cannot conceivably achieve. You were made for the task you are ill-equipped to manage. The high bar you can never reach.
You were made for the thing that terrifies you the most. The thing those others can do but never you.
You were made for the dream too good even to dream.
Some of you know this. You have already seen that the impossible thing slowly, gradually becomes more than just an impossible thing. It becomes a prayer. In other words, impossibility is shot through with cruel desire. You hardly know how it happens, but somehow you begin to want this impossible thing.
Until, one day (but truly it is never one day; it is always slowly over many days) the prayer is answered. The promise inherent in prayer is fulfilled. And the impossible thing becomes a gift, given freely.
Writing is my impossible thing. It is the dream I buried in a million books. Books I was convinced I could never write.
My friend Cara Strickland, a writer of delicious details, sent a few questions my way. They are questions meant for writers, but I’ve been considering them with all our many impossible dreams in mind.
I am working on noticing.
The more I notice, the more convinced I become that our lives, and the world in which we live them, are not the chaotic, meaningless jumbles they often appear to be.
When I notice the connections among a few dots, I write out those connections here on this blog. I try to do this once per week, but dots do not always obey our commands (pleas, bribes, etc.) to reveal their associations.
But I keep showing up and, sometimes, I am rewarded.
Slowly (very slowly), I am also writing out the connections among some bigger dots. Dots like homesickness and desire and kingdom come. I am gathering up these bits in a file called “My Book.” We shall see whether the title of this computer file proves itself prophetic.
- How does your work differ from others of its genre?
One of my greatest fears is that it does not. That, indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. But I find in the Psalms a command that has also become my prayer: “sing to the Lord a new song.”
I think this is why we are here on this planet. To sing to our God a new song. But, like most commands we find in the Bible, it is impossible. It asks too much. Every word I write rings in my ears like an echo of some other, better writer.
But I am learning to stand in the river that is the source of every new thing. I am learning to recognize the new when it bubbles up like a spring. New words, new stories, new beauties, new mercies. New is the keyword of the kingdom of God, and we are Christ’s own. We hold the keys to the kingdom.
- Why do you write what you do?
I write because the world holds so much beauty my heart would break if I couldn’t pause and gather some of it up.
I write because there is a river, and it has filled me with good news. Somehow I, the quiet one, the cautious one, want only to “go up on a high mountain” and shout “Here is your God!” (Isaiah 40:9).
- How does your writing process work?
It works like this: I stand near a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, a paper calendar in hand. I carve out quiet time. This is exhausting, difficult work. My knife is never sharp enough. And then, typically, I must let go of the time I have so carefully cut away. The baby does not nap, or the preschooler will not fulfill the “quiet” portion of his afternoon quiet-time obligation, or school is canceled, or I get sick, and on and on it goes.
Until, while wiping the counters or raking leaves or changing a diaper, I am visited by an image. Maybe two. The beginnings of a story.
My friend Laura Lynn Brown sings beautiful songs. She sings with words (you can find her award-winning essay “Fifty Things About My Mother” at Slate). She sings with paintbrush and pencil. She sings with an Irish flute. I’m passing the baton of these questions on to her. Look for her own thoughts on writing and the writing process at her website in the coming weeks.
Now tell me. How do you sing your own new song?
“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”
When I was young, dreams were easy. I wanted to marry that one boy from the church youth group. I wanted to live in the big city. I wanted a PhD. Later, I wanted (desperately) to have children.
In those days, dreams were like stair steps. One after the other, they fell into place. Some were realized easily, some only after the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, but they were all my dreams. I could take full credit for the dreaming, and I thanked God when my dreams came true.
Then the day when I exhausted my carefully hoarded stash of dreams. I had thought I carried an endless supply. I imagined I was Mary Poppins reaching deep into her carpet bag. But mine was only an ordinary duffel.
I remember it precisely. I sat at my desk with one dream heavy in my belly and another being typed out word by word on the screen of my computer. I was preparing to defend my PhD dissertation. I was preparing to give birth to my third child. That day, I opened my Bible and read these words: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
I knew then that I had come to the end of my own dreams.
I wasn’t unhappy. I had plans, though they were disconcertingly vague. I wasn’t ungrateful, though I was nine-months tired and dissertation stressed. The problem was that I read the phrase desires of your heart but saw only emptiness. I was no longer a dreamer. Had I ever been?
A few months after the baby and only days after graduation, we moved to Florida. There I learned that heart desires are born in God’s own throne room. I also learned that the door to the throne room is usually found in the wilderness.
Florida was my wilderness, my wandering place. It was the place where my own small plans were broken and then burned. And what was revealed in those flames? Of course. Desire.
We Christians profess selflessness (though too often we practice it as badly as anyone might). But in our profession we come to fear desire. Isn’t it wrong to pay such close attention to my own heart? Aren’t desires like sirens tempting me from the Way?
And so, like some foolish Ulysses, we stop up our ears, we tie ourselves to the mast of our ship, and we focus only on our plans. I will do this today. I will do that tomorrow. When always God is calling us to let go of our plans and listen to his voice.
It is so like the beautiful siren song, but it is calling us, not to our destruction, but to life. The abundance of the wide-awake but dreaming life. A life that will look differently for each of us. A life dreamed up for us alone. Dreamed up by Love and planted within us in the form of desire.
It might take getting lost. It might require fire. It might look like a struggle on the deck of a storm-tossed ship. But the thing that is left is worth everything. Every tear. Every question. Every dark, uncertain day.
The thing that is left is a God-breathed, God-given desire. It reveals the self you were made to be. It turns your gaze toward the One who made you.
The realization of this desire is like coming home after a long, uncertain sea voyage. But this is a home you could never have imagined. It is fully beyond your own capacity for dreaming.
I know this is the way of it when I find myself behind the wheel of a pickup truck. Yes, me. The same me who traded the flat fields and cowboy hats of Texas for skyscrapers and snowflakes. Here I am, driving a truck loaded with mushroom compost and baby trees.
Sitting high in my seat, the view through the tunnel of August corn is washed in golden, late-day light. I can just glimpse a far green hill. It is topped by that perfect couple: a white farmhouse and a red barn.
An Amish family clip-clops by behind their horse, and, for a moment, I cannot fathom how I have come to this place. This beautiful, never-before-imagined place.
And that is a heart’s desire. It is a place prepared for you. A place that satisfies your heart like nothing else.
It is a dream come true, though, walking your own way, you would have never dreamed of it at all.
“The kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. … The kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home …”
– Frederick Buechner, The Clown in the Belfry
A few people have recently asked if this place feels like home yet.
I haven’t been sure of my answer. I know that it is home, but does it feel like home?
Lying in bed last night, I finally puzzled it out. It seems presumptuous to call this place – the old brick house, the long maple-lined drive, the falling-down barn – my home. I haven’t earned it yet.
The house has been here for more than 130 years. The farm for longer than that. The stone remains of the ice house and various other outbuildings (we’ve taken to calling them “the ruins”) testify to just how long this place has been cultivated, lived in, and cared for.
How can I waltz in and call it my home?
I need to sweep a few more floors, plant a few more trees before I can feel comfortable making that claim.
And we will plant those trees. We’ll wait for late winter or early spring, and then we’ll dig in four fruit trees. One for each of our babies.
We have plans for blueberry bushes, a few more maples to fill in the gaps, and I’m trying to decide exactly where to carve out the asparagus bed.
Did you know that asparagus can come back every spring for twenty years or more? Placing that bed is a big decision. It matters.
Or, does it?
I can remember someone in the Christian circles of my childhood saying this: “The only things which last forever are the souls of men and the word of God.” I can’t remember who said it, and I can’t remember (or perhaps never knew) if they were quoting someone else.
I can remember, even as a kid, feeling the rift between how those words were supposed to make me feel (focused, committed, inspired) and how they actually made me feel (depressed, primarily). And now I know why: those words aren’t true. They leave out too much.
They leave out fruit trees and asparagus.
Clean floors and campfires.
God is making all things new, and our lives, our daily this and that, are a part of that great project. This is an old place, yes, but it, like all other good things, is being renewed.
In God’s kingdom, the stuff of earth can become so much more. This is true of bread and wine. It is also true of bricks and trees.
For His glory.
We’ve signed papers, and, if all goes as planned, we’ll soon move into an old farmhouse in the Pennsylvania countryside. For two years dreams have been our only food, and those dreams are being realized.
Dream is a word I’ve always had trouble with.
When I was a child I learned words like sinner, salvation, and cross, but those good words twisted themselves in ugly ways until all I heard was duty, obligation, and sacrifice. My faith boiled down to what I owed to Jesus. There is little room for dreaming in a life of obligation.
Why dream my own dreams when Jesus might say follow me somewhere I did not want to go?
The Jesus who loves me – me! – and not my life of sacrifice taught me how to dream. I wanted to live in the city, I wanted a PhD, I wanted children. They were my dreams, and Jesus made them reality. Each dream realized was a gift from the One who is Love.
Until the day I came to the end of my own dreams.
Pregnant with my third child and only a few hurdles away from my degree, I saw a future that looked blank. The horizon was right up close, and I had nothing to aim for. The dreams I had chased for years had come true, but I had no dreams of my own left to run toward.
We cannot live without dreams. They are as necessary as bread.
But where do we find them?
I know now that our best dreams come from the kingdom of God.
For too long, I looked at Jesus and saw only the cross: a one-time event that left me in his debt. I saw but didn’t see.
Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection were not isolated events. They were beginning and ending. They unleashed something so beautiful and miraculous words just can’t capture it. But we try. We say, as Jesus did all those years of his earthly ministry, “The Kingdom of God is at hand!”
Frederick Buechner puts it so well. Speaking of Jesus’s first followers, he writes: “One way or another Christ called them. … They saw the marvel of him arch across the grayness of things – the grayness of their own lives, perhaps, of life itself. They heard his voice calling their names. And they went” (from Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons).
Yes, we are moving to our dream house, but we are not chasing a house. We are chasing Jesus. It has always been his beautiful voice calling to us in the desert. It was his voice that said NO, and NO, and NO when we pursued familiar things like church involvement, an academic career, a life just big enough for three children, no more.
Now, we are living in his YES and everything that looked like sacrifice and hardship has proved to be the surest and best path toward glory.
Buechner goes on, “[Christ] called them to see that no matter how ordinary it may seem to us as we live it, life is extraordinary. … Life even at its most monotonous and backbreaking and heart-numbing has the Kingdom buried in it the way a field has treasures buried in it. … The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. … The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”
We jumped into the river, though we had no idea where it might take us.
It has taken us home.