I recently came across this in my photo stream. Part photo, part iPad drawing, it’s my original vision of the art studio I wanted to build as an addition to our home. This was exactly what I wanted; a little extra light-filled space added on to the home office already there. If I could have snapped my fingers and made it instantly materialize exactly like this, I would have been thrilled.
What I ended up with looks almost nothing like this. So…does that make it a disappointment?
Here’s how my studio addition turned out:
It’s a reminder to me that, as the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”
Looking at my drawing now, years later, I see how small I was dreaming. All that glass was good in theory, but was way too much. It would have let in too much light, too much cold in the winter, too much heat in the summer, and offered too little privacy. The original plan didn’t even consider adding to our basement below, which we did, giving us much-needed storage space for inventory.
The spirit of the vision is the same: more space, lots of light, stunning lake views…but the result is far and away better than I envisioned. Thanks be to God.
I often feel like my capacity for dreaming has diminished over the years. Perhaps it’s easier to dream when we’re young before life experience introduced cynicism and made failure and disappointment a common occurrence. We grow weary of dreaming too big, for fear of getting our hopes up, only to be disappointed. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Make your dreams just big enough to be impressive, but not grandiose enough to slip past the edge of the impossible.
That younger version of me often feels like a missing person, and I wonder what became of him.
Looking back at the origins of dreams that came true helps.
So does a reframe on the dreams that didn’t.
Early in my career, I dreamed of becoming a syndicated cartoonist with my comic strip appearing in every newspaper in the country. Even though I landed in a few for a brief time, that dream never materialized, and I made the difficult decision to retire the strip after six-plus years of giving it my all.
Sometimes dreams are just starting points, a place to begin when we don’t know any better. It’s a flag in the ground, a destination to start moving toward. But then, on our journey, we learn more about ourselves and more about the dream, including what sacrifices it requires, and the pros and cons of what success truly looks like.
After some soul-searching, I realized that what I really wanted was to use my art to inspire, entertain, and encourage people to renew their childlike spirit. A comic strip was the way I thought would get me there. Whether it was a weak idea, a lack of talent, or the slow death of newspapers, that path was not meant to be. My problem was that I thought it was the only way, and I spent a lot of time grieving what I considered a failed dream.
In retrospect, it wasn’t. The career I currently have is far superior to the one I thought I wanted. I am still using my art to inspire, entertain, and encourage people to renew their childlike spirit. Back then, I simply didn’t have the imagination big enough to envision my current life. Had I known that what I currently do was an option when I was twenty-two, I would have chosen this.
Another example of God’s gifts putting man’s best dreams to shame.
It’s important to understand that I may not be here had I not started where I did. And so I can thank that original dream for giving me the start. That part of the journey built my work ethic, taught me lessons in perseverance, and helped me sort out the “why” behind my dream.
It’s ok to let a dream go once more data has been collected and we realize it’s not something we want after all. That doesn’t make it a bad dream, or a failed dream, or make us foolish for once having wanted it. We can thank it for the enthusiasm it provided us, giving us the fuel we needed to launch.
For over twenty years, Kim and I dreamed of living on a lake. It seemed impossible while we were toiling away in an apartment for eight years in the not-so-great side of town. Not until about six months before it happened did I ever even consider the lake would be one of the Great ones. But I’m currently writing this from my dream studio overlooking my backyard, also known as Lake Michigan.
God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.
Looking back like this gives that long-lost dreamer within me permission to rise again. Maybe he’s not lost after all.
Kim and I have a helpful little thing we add to our prayers, especially the “big dream” kind. The addendum is this: “or something better.” Sometimes we say it out loud, and sometimes just in our head. It’s sort of an understanding we have with God that we are open to his suggestions, because time and again, we have found that his ideas are usually better than ours.
Maybe your dream appears to be heading in an unexpected direction. Maybe it feels like it’s in the midst of a crash and burn. Maybe it’s time to be open to something better.
God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.
🤔 I wonder…what’s a dream in your life that turned out way better than you ever imagined?