This was the year I was supposed to realize a dream. Completion of my undergraduate degree was just around the corner. My books had been bought—all $546 of them. A second car was purchased so that I could make the forty-five minute commute averaging thirty-five miles per gallon. Best of all, God had blessed my endeavor by sending me a check for the sum of $7,500, exactly what I’d taken out in student loans for my senior year.
The first day of classes, I drove the forty-five minute drive in what felt like fifteen. I sat in class and soaked in the syllabi. Each moment I was there, I counted it a privilege and couldn’t wait until two semesters from now when I was finished and holding a piece of paper in my hand.
I never guessed that I would hand my dream over one short week after the journey began.
My second day of classes I returned home to an excited husband. Nathan had received a phone call from a church he’d been interviewing with for the last six weeks. Each stage that passed, he would share with me his insecurities: "This offer is too good to be true," or "I totally botched that interview." Yet at every stage he continued to get a green light from the church leadership. Sure enough, that day there was a new offer my husband eagerly shared. Out of forty applicants, he was one of two to be invited to visit the church for a face-to-face meeting.
This incredible tug-of-war began inside my soul. I was excited for him and proud of how far he’d progressed through the applicant process. Not even five years ago, when we were newly married, my husband was previously divorced and I entered the marriage with a three year old. During that first year of trying to find a steady job, we were actually hung up on in the middle of an interview with a church out of Ohio. I remember the message that disconnected phone call had imparted to my husband: He wasn’t good enough. He was damaged. It was a message that he’s carried with him for several years. Now, here he was, being considered for an opportunity that was beyond his wildest dreams.
Sure, I could continue on with my $3,600 semester and risk not being able to transfer any credits should the 50/50 chance of being offered the job fall in our favor. I could stubbornly insist, It’s my turn to accomplish something great. It’s my turn to dictate a chapter in our lives together. I’m tired of following. I could continue down the path of harnessed rebellion and independence I experienced this summer, failing to control my team-spirit inside marriage.
The summer had been an unusually difficult one. Nathan was gone for almost seven weeks. I chased after three boys, balanced a little work here and there, started on a book, and listened to my mother-in-law tell me what type of birthday feast she was fixing for him as he celebrated with her 2,600 miles away, for the third time in our five-year marriage. In all honesty, I reverted back to bitterness and pride over the summer. I’d been a single mom before we married and sort of felt like I was doing it all over again. It was a struggle to keep myself under Nathan and God’s authority, in ascending order. The only joy I felt was on August 31st, knowing that September 1st was only two days away from September 3rd, the start of school and a new chapter of independence for me.
So here we were, September 10th, exactly one week and thirty-seven study hours after school began, and I was faced with the ultimate decision. Do I trust God enough to hand over my dream?
Even now, tears sting my eyes as I ask myself that question. Not because I doubt what He will do, but because I don’t know exactly when He will do it. How do I handle that unknown? How do I wait patiently for Him to give me back my dream and allow me to fulfill that longing inside my soul?
My pastor spoke on patience, but I think it goes further than that. I think that I’m about to learn an incredible lesson in self-control that looks something like this …
If I’ve truly turned my dream of education over to God, I can’t blame my husband for this surrender. This should be easier than what it is. But controlling my tongue and refraining from speaking harshly is a huge struggle for me. Each time we daydream about the job opportunity that might be in our future, my excitement is immediately chased by bitterness. The lie that tries to consume my thoughts says, Here you are again, giving up your dreams for his. I would like to control my beliefs of what is truth and say back to that voice, No, it’s our future and our ministry. It’s our marriage, and our life.
If my dream is God-inspired, letting go of my classes this fall isn’t going to hinder the realization of that dream. I never considered myself a worrier until now. Now, I think about it constantly. The same day I dropped all my classes I also found an online program through a prestigious university. They only accept twenty applicants a year. All I can think is, What if they don’t choose me? If my dream is God-inspired, He will choose the university from which I finish. I want to choose self-control and not worry about the very thing I chose to place in God’s hands.
If I am going to walk through this refining moment and emerge on the other side having learned the intended lessons, I better put on my walking shoes and decide to stick with it. The summer was a difficult one, in which there were moments I wasn’t sure I knew how to hold onto everything important. On the days I wanted to throw in the towel, I decided to just take life one step at a time, one success (feeding the boys a healthy lunch) and one failure (being angry to the point that I refused to talk with God) at a time. On my really weak moments, I just reminded myself that God is a God who can keep me from stumbling. That is His promise. I want enough self-control that I am able to place myself in His Word, even when my emotions are void and numbing.
There you have it—a life being lived with unrealized dreams. We all have them. We all live them. There are days that the dreams feel a lifetime away. Today is not one of those days. My dream is at the forefront of my mind. In fact, it’s ranked high enough in my thought hierarchy that it might be a borderline idol. Ouch. Yet with an extra measure of patience and self-control, I think I will be able to wait until I meet my textbooks again.
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Ashleigh Slater, Founder & Managing Editor
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-- Renee Fisher, author of Forgiving Others, Forgiving Me
"Real life is not always pleasant. Every marriage experiences disappointments, misunderstandings, sickness and financial crisis. Ashleigh doesn’t camouflage the pain in her own marriage, and offers practical ideas on how to walk through the difficulties and find intimacy on the journey. If you are anything like me, I predict that as you read, you too will find yourself laughing, wiping tears, and saying 'Oh, yes.'"
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