Why Now Is the Time to Dream

 

DreamThis summer my husband and I came extremely close to buying a large chunk of land less than a mile from where he grew up. We were excited; so excited to see these plans come through.

For months we talked and planned and dreamed. We walked the property and checked with the owner time and again working toward a deal.

This dream of owning land, of building a house, of having a place to call our own has been in our hearts since the day we wed almost thirteen years ago. And really it was a dream long before then.

We’ve come close to seeing this dream realized several times throughout our marriage but somehow it always falls through. 

At times this has shattered our hearts to pieces and other times it’s been okay because we knew God had better plans, but even still our hearts continue to dream and hope and long for that day, for that place all our own.

Again, this summer we thought we had it. And again this summer it didn’t work out.

Overall, we were kind of relieved when the deal didn’t go through. Too many red flags kept waving and we walked away from the land with all kinds of peace in our hearts.

I am so thankful for this but still we wonder what’s next. If not this land, this deal, then what? Will our dream ever come true? 

 It’s definitely been a time of trial and drawing close to God. Of choosing again and again to trust Him with our desire, to be open with our hearts, and believe His plans for us are good. To prosper and not to harm us.

And in this time of drawing close I keep hearing Him whisper a special message just for me:

 Now’s the time to dream. 

Having His permission to dream is both freeing and affirming. It inspires me to picture that place I long for so deeply. 

To see in my minds eye (and a Pinterest board or two…okay three) that one part cabin, one part castle, one part cottage home which is so perfectly me.

To picture my bedroom, my girl’s room, my writing nook.

To picture a spacious yard for my girls to play and an apple orchard just for me.

My list of dreams goes on and on filling my heart with light and hope. 

 And it’s not about not being happy where I am now. Indeed it’s being more than okay with waiting to see these dreams come true, but as I wait it’s also okay to imagine, to wonder, to trust. To dream big dreams that spin me around and point me to Him.

As I dream about my someday home I’m reminded that His permission to dream also holds true in other areas of my life where I find myself waiting. 

There’s the dream of another baby… perhaps a little boy.

The dream of spoiling our family and friends with trips, and blessings, and gifts galore.

And the dream of publishing my book.

So I let my mind run wild in the quiet and waiting places. In moments with Him and those Pinterest boards.

And I picture a little boy in cowboy boots who smiles just like his daddy.

I picture my parents on a cruise ship, my family in Germany, my best writing buddy and me in a tricked out glamper doing book signings from coast to coast.

I picture my book, printed on leafy pages, looking right at home on a Barnes and Noble shelf.

Will these dreams ever come true? Lord only knows…

But this I know for sure…

His heart for me is good.

His promises are true.

And now’s the time to dream. 

How to Stop the Tiresome Striving (with a little lesson from Max)

Still HotI looked at the bottom line: $ 1,800.00 to homeschool my girls this fall, IF we do all the things I’d like to do. The video tools, the new curriculums, the local classical group.

But how in the world? I wondered. How will we ever come up with the money and still make ends meet. 

The answer is simple: we won’t. According to my husband, and President of Allen Party of Five, we won’t go into debt or jeopardize the rest of our expenses just to do the latest and greatest in the homeschooling world.

Part of me wholeheartedly agrees. I can easily and effectively homeschool my girls using materials I already have for far less, and I know in the end we’ll be fine.

But there’s this other part of me. There’s this voice that says it won’t be enough. Without the latest and greatest my girls will miss out. I’ll miss out on important resources and opportunities.

MaxAnd there’s these other things going on with me:

There’s this compulsion to eat. To gobble up anything and everything that has sugar as a main ingredient. There’s this impulse to spend money. To buy this or order that. Something doesn’t feel right, I think as I scarf down a cupcake. I know better, this isn’t me, I muse as my curser hovers over the Confirm Order button.

And there’s also this complacency that’s perhaps the most troubling of all. This lack of a desire to write. To be still and commune with God. To resist the things that bring real, true life.

After three weeks of this behavior I stopped to listen to the voice that kept saying, this isn’t me. I stopped and asked God to show me, on the level of my heart, what this homeschool anxiety, sugar addiction, and compulsion to buy was really about.

In the stillness and the quiet He whispered three words:

Validation

Satisfaction

Joy

That’s what’s at play here. In my heart this is what I’m longing for. Striving for. To feel validated as a homeschooling mom. To feel satisfied and full. To feel real, true, joy.

The tiresome spirit of striving, the urge to make things happen, worms into my heart and mind in seemingly harmless ways, and before I know it I find myself caught in a wormhole of vices, addictions and counterfeit Gods. 

God has spread a banquet before me. His banner over me is love, and all I want is to eat at McDonalds. I want fast food when I need the bread of life. I want a quick fix when I need to slow and taste and see that He alone is good.

What other validation matters? What other satisfaction lasts? What other joy could be so complete? Where can I find any of these things except in Him?

Wild RumpusWhen I saw the striving for what it was, I asked God to come and rescue me, to disarm the meddlesome force. I asked Him to forgive me for all the ways I’d tried to fill the void in my heart with sugar and shine and things that weren’t Him.

I returned to my Savior and His banquet for me. To His soaring banner of love.

It sort of reminds me of Max, the little boy in the famous book, Where the Wild Things Are. How Max goes off to live and roam and romp with the wild things thinking this is what he wanted, thinking this would satisfy the ache in his soul. But in the end he found the wild things weren’t what he wanted or needed at all so he left the wild things and sailed for home.

When the wild things call, when they come with striving, compulsions, and things that make you think, this isn’t me…

Remember the banquet. Remember the feast and the banner over your head. Remember who you belong to, the source of all you want, the giver of all you need.

And sail for home. 

Be like Max who returned to “the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him

and it was still hot.”*

*(From Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)

For the Weak, the Weary, the Fragile

Frustrated FourI wrote a blog this week. It was full of hope and reminders of God’s faithful promises. I wrote it from a place of strength and confidence at the start of what I knew was sure to be a tough week. 

But the week that was harder than I imagined, and now my heart feels anything but strong and confident. Rather, I feel weak and vulnerable and incredibly fragile. 

I’m in a pit. A deep, dark pit. No one knows. My family, I’m sure, can sense that I’m not myself, that something’s not quite right, but they have no idea how much I’m struggling.

On the outside the struggle is simple. My mom is recovering from surgery and the care of the household is riding on my shoulders. I’m struggling with dishes, and laundry, and meals for the seven people that fill up this house. I’m struggling to keep up with homeschooling and writing, while being a gentle and patient mom and wife.

But there’s also this inward struggle. I’m desperate for time to write. For time to tap out more than a blog on my phone while nursing Belle.

I keep going to God. I pray, I read, I pray I read, searching for comfort, searching for help but He seems far away and mad at me.

He knows I’m a horrible daughter.

He knows I’m neglecting my kids, my husband, and Him.

He knows if I’d just get up earlier or go to bed later I’d have the time I need to write.

Why do I keep coming to Him with these failings and excuses? With these out of control emotions when the answers are so simple? 

He knows I should be thankful, aware of all He’s giving.

But this isn’t Him, this isn’t His voice. It’s the voice that’s out to get me. Out to keep me in the pit.

Life is hard right now. It’s far from ideal, and as John Eldredge writes in his book, Desire, “I must have life. I cannot arrange for it.”

Circumstances have created a challenge, a hurdle, and if I’m not careful, if I’m not vigilant in this fight for joy, this battle for my heart, I will get taken out. 

Throughout this awful week I’ve been under attack and I didn’t even realize it, I didn’t know. The enemy disguised his voice and tricked me so well. I thought it was me, I thought it was God.

Sometimes it’s not the storm but the spiritual battle within the storm that lands us in the pit. And sometimes realizing you’re in a battle is the weapon you need to stand up and fight.

The life I desire, the life I need, can only be given by God. At times like these, as I wait on Him, I have to understand how vulnerable I am, how much I need His protection. 

Why wouldn’t the enemy capitalize on the situation I’m in? On the vulnerable place in my heart? It’s the perfect set up for victory. His arrows almost got me but I see them for what they are.

I’m not crazy.

I’m not a bad daughter.

I do need sleep.

I’m doing what I can to turn to my Savior, to find time in my day to write.

I’m trying my best to be thankful.

At the end of my week, at the end of my rope, God gave me clarity, He gave me strength. He met me in my heart and gave me what I needed to live outside the pit. 

I have no idea when I’ll be able to write but God knows what I need, He knows my heart, and I know He’ll make a way.

With joy and peace and His magnificent armor around me I’ll be okay. I’ll be more than okay. I’ll be protected, provided for, loved.

My God is the God of Angel Armies. He has my back.

And I have Him.

The “Push Present” I Want Most (And How You Can Help)

BellyIf you’ve been following this blog for the last few months you probably know that my husband and I are expecting our third baby this February. What you may not know is that my due date is just a couple weeks away!

I’m as excited as I can be but I’m also nervous, scared, and wondering what God has in store. There is so much about a new baby and labor and delivery that is impossible to know ahead of time, and it’s the unknown that tends to freak me out.

This whole blog started in the aftermath of my daughter, Tenley’s, birth three years ago. By aftermath, I mean a very unexpected bout with postpartum depression that led me into a dark time of sadness and regret. (Read more about this journey here).

After several months God did a deeply redeeming work in my life by using my delivery experience with Tenley to lead me back to my writing. When He reintroduced me to my paper and pen a whole world opened up before me and I haven’t looked back since.

I am so completely thankful for this experience but as I gear up for “VBAC Delivery Part 2” I can’t help but wonder, What if…

What if history repeats itself?

What if this delivery doesn’t go the way I hope it will?

What if I end up in that dark place again?

For the most part these are just thoughts. They haven’t taken root or left me shaken. I have so many good things in my life right now that were not in existence when Tenley was born:

A passion for writing that keeps me focused, nurtured, and fed.

A circle of friends who love and support me.

A church we call home.

New understandings of God and His love.

These, along with my family, are my safeguards and I’m thankful for each one of them.

So here I am, What If’s aside, preparing my heart and mind for another attempt at a natural birth. I wish I could tell you exactly why this whole birth thing means so much to me, but I can’t…at least not completely.

I do know there is something about birth I believe to be sacred; it’s one of the many ways God shows his redeeming love.

I know I like to test myself, see where my limits are and how far I can push them.

I know my approach to birth is much like my approach to life. When pain comes along I want to feel it, not numb my heart and soul to that which is uncomfortable. I want to rely deeply on God and lean into trials with all of my heart, experiencing joy, pain, and life to the fullest.

This fall I read a line in the book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente. This line, to me, is exquisite because it captures so perfectly what I feel about life. What I feel about family, friendship, writing, birth, and everything important to me…

“And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.” (pg 36)

This birth thing…I guess more than anything…it’s me chasing wonders.

It isn’t easy for me to share this with you, even though I love you, my readers, so dearly. I have more than a few people in my life who are convinced I’m crazy for wanting to have a natural birth and chances are a few of you most likely agree with them. And that’s okay. We all have our wonders we’re willing to chase…willing to bleed for. You may not get mine. I may not get yours but we can still support each other if we’re willing to be vulnerable, and honest, and true.

And that’s what I’m hoping you’ll do. Enter this journey with me. Help me chase this wonder.

Eight years ago, my wonder chasing looked less like having babies and more like running a marathon. As I labored through all 26.2 miles of the Marine Core Marathon, I was supported by family and friends through phone calls, text messages, and voicemails. Each one kept me going. Each one gave me that extra “umph” to run another mile.

So I thought, wouldn’t it be helpful? Wouldn’t it be nice to run this journey with a similar arsenal, a similar support team to cheer me on?

I think so.

With all my heart I hope and pray this blog in some way big or small helps you chase the wonders that are close to your heart. Will you help me chase one of mine?

Will you give me the “push-present” I want most: Your love, your support, your encouragement? Will you leave a comment here? On Facebook? Via email? Will you keep my family and me in your prayers?

It feels a little desperate, a little shameless to ask, but I think that’s just my pride talking. The heart of me knows it’s okay to ask, it’s okay to be real, honest me. It’s okay to invite you in.

Because, we’re in this life together. Chasing one beautiful, bold, amazing, wonder at a time.

What wonders are you chasing these days? I’d love to hear from you! As always, your comments and posts are precious to me and I read every one!

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Write to me at: jenniferallen@onceuponawriter.com

How to Make Your Canvas, Your New Year, Your Life, a Masterpiece

Nativity 2Sheldon Rhodes had had enough. After 40 years of children’s ministry he was tired of people mistaking his home and Jest Kidding headquarters in Nashville, MI as some kind of daycare center.

Something had to change. Something about his property needed to proclaim God and his glory, needed to show anyone and everyone driving by what he, his wife, Vicky, and their ministry were all about.

The seed had been planted years ago. While visiting a church in Niagara Falls, New York, Sheldon and Vicky became aware that the church was doing a live nativity display. In years to come they watched this display become a beacon drawing people from miles around to come and see the Christmas story as they’d never seen it before.

Camel 2AngelA dream was lodged in their hearts, a vision to someday use their home and ministry headquarters to declare God’s glory not just at Christmas but all the year through.

On a December afternoon in 2013 Sheldon received a call from yet another person inquiring after his supposed daycare center. It was the last straw and perhaps a providential one.

A few days later on Christmas Eve he went to bed but couldn’t sleep. His mind kept thinking of ideas, of ways he could transform his home, his yard, his driveway into an epic nativity. He thought of lights, music, and scripture readings. He pictured Christmas brought to life and a drive-thru village that would tell the story from beginning to end of Jesus Christ and His love.

Christmas in July 2He saw his home and property as an empty canvas and with all his heart he wanted to use it to paint a masterpiece for God.

But how? And when? And where would they get the tools, the resources, the help they would need to make their dream a reality? It was all a little crazy wasn’t it? Could God really be in this?

On the day after Christmas Sheldon and Vicky got in their van and drove to Frakenmuth, MI home of the world’s largest Christmas store. For an entire day they roamed the aisles searching for ideas, dreaming of possibilities.

In January Sheldon shared his vision with his board of directors, and with their input and support a yearlong journey was launched.

It was a monumental task. There were setbacks, fears, and doubts but Sheldon and Vicky knew that God was with them, helping them, guiding them, supporting their plans.

Christmas In JulyChristmas in July 3Little by little God provided in many amazing ways. Expensive patterns and materials for a life-size nativity set were donated to the cause. Volunteers came in late July to prepare the grounds and other materials. Gifted painters helped to transform mere pieces of plywood into beautiful works of art.

Almost a year to date from the beginning of their venture, Sheldon and Vicky added the last piece of their nativity to their front lawn. With only days left until Christmas their vision had become a reality.

It was the end of yearlong project but it was also a beginning. With plans to keep adding to their nativity and ideas for other holidays Sheldon and Vicky can’t wait to see what God has in store.

If you were to take a drive to Nashville, MI, headed East off Hwy 66, traveling down State Rd, you’d be sure to see the Rhodes’ home and a lavish display of God’s love. It’s just what Sheldon wanted, it’s a testament to God and His glory, and it’s also a reminder to us.

Vicky Painting 2It’s a reminder that our lives, our resources, and the gifts we’ve been given are all empty canvases on which we can paint a display of God and His glory, a declaration of His love.

Seeds are planted all the time, dreams and visions of what could be. When we’re faithful with those seeds, as Sheldon has been faithful with his, there’s no limit to what God can do.

What stirs your soul? What keeps you awake when you dare to let your mind wander, when you dare to let your heart dream? Is it a life-size nativity display, a blog post, a business plan? Is it righting a wrong or fighting injustice? Is it a Saturday feeding the homeless or a home cooked meal for a tired mom?

Whatever comprises your canvas, make no mistake God is there. He’s in your vision, He’s in your dreams. He’s in your plans, your pursuits, your wonder.

Look close and you’ll see it, every time. When you step out in faith, when you work for His glory, His fingerprints, there on your canvas.

The colorful strokes of His glory turning plywood into art.

Turning everything all around into beacons of His story. Your heart, your vision, the work of your hands into the masterpiece of His love.

For more information on Sheldon’s nativity and/or Jest Kidding ministries please visit www.jestkidding.com.

Sheldon’s nativity will be on display 24/7 throughout the holiday season. Sheldon and Vicky welcome you to load up your family, take a drive, and see their display located at 10230 E. State Road, Nashville, MI, 49073.