What failure taught me about dreaming

When James Gandolfini died, I read his words on why Tony Soprano appealed to viewers:

You got to see what he was trying to do, what he was trying to fix, and what he was trying to become.

Every one of us is trying to do those same things. That’s your dream.

One day in Home Depot I heard Bruce Springsteen’s ’Working On A Dream’ for the first time. An appropriate place to hear a song about building something. I could relate and maybe you can too.

So your body doesn’t climb a ladder and swing a hammer with the rain pourin’ down? But your soul does, as you try to do, fix, and become.

Don’t do what I did

Seventeen years ago I had a dream about a radio show. I dreamed and talked and planned. Never happened. It died a long, quiet, uneventful death. Why? I think because it was always in the future. It was all “if” and “when.”

Today I feel guilty and foolish. I said I believed the dream, but I didn’t do much but think and plan. Occasionally I got all jived and worked at it for a few days. I prayed too, but as they say, you have to put feet to your prayers. Mostly I waited.

My soul wasn’t engaged in any ladder climbing or hammer swinging.

Yes, stretch for the future

Our family has a dream of a small property used for hope, encouragement, and perspective. A place where heaven, earth, and everyday living come together. It’s vague and incomplete, but each of us sees some specific piece. We’ve all talked about this for several years.

Our daughter the Nester (oh wait I can call her by her real name now) and her husband are ready. They’re looking for a home for their family and for their dream. The place will belong to them but also might be suitable for some of what we’re all dreaming.

They found a piece of property with a house. They’re in the middle of appraisal and inspection hurdles now. No one knows how it will turn out.

Don’t just embrace your dream – let it embrace you

Once a week or so I drive to that property. The owners have moved, but I want to be respectful so I  sit in the car at the end of the gravel drive. I pray that in the future everyone who drives up that drive would find great encouragement at the other end and that they would take it with them when they leave.

One day I get bold and drive up the driveway onto the property. I plan to walk around the whole thing praying. I’m there about ten minutes when I turn around and see the owner’s truck parked next to my car. He’s just arrived and he’s walking out the back door of the house into the yard.

This is awkward. I’ve met him, but I’m not the one purchasing his property and I haven’t called or asked or knocked on the door. I’m just wandering around in his yard.

Be lighthearted and honest and apologize, right? Let’s call him Chris.

“Hey Chris, I’m Gary. We met a couple weeks ago. My daughter and son-in-law are the ones who want to purchase your property. I guess I’m trespassing but I wanted to come up here to pray.”

“Well that’s always a good thing.”

Honor your dream and treat is as a NOW thing

We make small talk. I ask how he’s doing since I know family issues are involved in selling the property. He shares how tough it is. I mention that I’m sure he and his wife had hopes and dreams for this place. We talk about that a bit and somehow the conversation moves to his desire to write books. That starts it.

Over the next fifteen minutes I do all I can to encourage this guy not to ignore that desire inside him and that he can do it. I SO want him to not just let his dream fizzle out. At the end I ask him if I can pray for him. He takes off his ball cap. Part of what I pray is that the God who created heaven and earth would help Chris and take pleasure in what he creates.

The next day it hits me: I did a fifteen minute impromptu version of my Scary Hope message with the owner of the property my daughter and her husband want to buy. My part of our family dream is to do things like that on the land we’ve talked about. And I just did it. But the property isn’t in our family!

For a moment, my part of the dream was already real. Even though the dream hasn’t happened yet.

What would you do if your dream came true? Do that now

The Nester has a dream of a gathering place for swap meets, and to learn crafts, and to connect with women and be encouraged about the purpose of our homes. She doesn’t have the place yet but she’s already doing all that stuff at her house or at whatever space she can find.

Our other daughter (daughters rock!) Emily and her husband John have a dream of contributing to the spiritual conversation in their community. After a year or so of prayer and planning, John just quit his job to engage their dream, even though it has not come true yet.

The Declaration of Independence announced a dream that had been decided in the hearts of the founding fathers months and years before. They were already living like it was true, even though the British could still win and defeat the dream.

Faith sees the future in the present. Honoring your dreams now with your actions is part of faith.

What’s your dream? How can you honor it now, by faith? 

What everybody ought to know about risk

You call it risk because you don’t know what will happen, and what does happen could be bad. You don’t like bad.

But it could be good! That’s why you take the risk, why you face the fear and make that leap into the unknown.

It can all feel so life and death. Some play it safe. Some say, “If I die I die.”

The Lord is watching. It looks different to him than it does to you.

And he’s chuckling because he knows that in the end you’re safe in his house.

 (if you’re viewing this in email, click HERE to go to the blog to see the short video)

Have you ever taken a risk and discovered God was ‘in the house’ the whole time?

So how does God talk to you?

You’re unsure. Discouraged. Doubting.

You’re waiting and wondering. How do you know what to do next? You think you know but you’re hesitating. How how does anyone really know anything? How do you think about it?

A few words come to mind: Don’t be afraid. You don’t hear the words, you just remember them for some reason.

Then you feel another word: Come. Very subtle, no big deal. The word just lightly occurs to you. So lightly that if it was balanced on your sleeve the shallowest breath would blow it away.

Then: Go. Yeah, right. C’mon, is that just you?

You take a walk. It’s morning and the sun is just coming up over the trees and it shines so bright in your face that you have to squint.

You keep walking, and the rhythm of your footsteps brings the words of a song to your mind:

I know who goes before me

I know who stands behind

The God of Angel Armies

Is always by my side


The question you never ask but should

Let’s say you have some ideas, some dreams, some plans.

Maybe for a career change. Or starting a business or ministry. Or a book idea. Or marriage. Or selling the house and taking the kids out of school and buying a boat and sailing around the world for two years.

And of course you have some doubts. You’re not sure it can happen or that it will work. You keep counting the cost. You don’t want to fail. It’s easy to picture all the details of failure and pain.

You make plans to account for failure, to give yourself the best chance of success. But no matter how well or long you plan, you know there’s no guarantee.

You hesitate because you don’t know if it will be worth it. And maybe you hesitate a bit because you feel failure will be the end of your dream. You think that dreaming with hope is better than failure and no hope.

But in all your preoccupation with risk and failure, you never ask

What if it works?


How great would that be?

What if it works BETTER than you’ve imagined? Would that be worth it?

How can you find out?

Your ONE WORD goal for 2013 : Part II

Read Part I HERE.

Just one word for the whole year?

Yes! Don’t you love it!?

Or maybe not the whole year. In my experience the usefulness of my word can die out after about three months or so. If that happens to you, just pick another word that has meaning and motivation right then. Don’t force it; go with a new word.

There are no “One Word per year!” rules.

Sometimes you’ll have a One Word Goal for a few months, pick a new word for a few months, then come back to the first word later. In later years a word may come back and be useful again for a few months.

One year I had four words at once: “Trust. Don’t. Be. Do.” Someday I may share with you what that meant, but like I said, it’s personal. Make it work for you.

What if you don’t have a word in mind right now? How do you find your word?

  • First, think of your goals – just the ones you can name off the top of your head
  • OR think of the few changes that would make the biggest difference in your life right now
  • Now, what ONE action or attitude would make a big difference in achieving most of those goals or changes? (remember my example of my word ‘engage‘)
  • Can you think of a WORD that describes that action or attitude?
  • Verbs are good
  • Something loopy that only you appreciate can be good – like a little joke with yourself
  • It must be useful – when you hear your word you have to be motivated
  • Don’t over think it – what one change in your attitude or behavior would make a big difference? What one word covers that?

So what’s your One Word Goal for 2013 and why did you pick it?

What’s your ONE WORD goal for 2013? : Part I

Go extreme and make ONE WORD your goal for this year.

No lists. No check-marks. No deadlines.

One word.

Right now I’ll bet you’re dealing with an issue, a problem, a desire, a goal, that can be captured in one word.

That word becomes your goal for your attitude or behavior. Your word reminds you and motivates you. Then the resulting attitude or behavior impacts a whole bunch of areas where you would normally have goals.Your word might apply in some narrow but important area of your life. Or it might apply broadly at work or home, with family and friends, and in your own heart and soul, too.

Your word should be personal. No one else will understand how much this word means to you right now.

When you have the right word, and you honor or follow it, things will change in your life. Good things will happen.

My word for 2013?


Why? I keep noticing that I have a default setting of detachment. I take the easy way out and disengage. This gets me in trouble in trying to accomplish things at home and work. I miss opportunities in conversations and relationships. Recently I have been reminding myself to stop that, to engage, to deal with things head-on when they present themselves.

I tell myself, “Don’t assume someone else will do it, Gary. Do it or make sure it get’s done. Engage.”

One word can eat a bunch of goals

That financial conversation my wife and I are supposed to have at the beginning of each month? Don’t wait for her to bring it up and then use her as an excuse for why we didn’t do it.

Tighten those cabinet door handles in the bathroom. Don’t look at them day after day thinking, “oh yeah I need to do that.”

Don’t flirt with writing and projects. Engage.

Do one thing at a time. . .  Give people my undivided attention. . . Don’t put off responding to calls and email. . . Go to bed when I’m tired and realize I’m not getting anything done.

No matter what my goals are, if I would just engage issues, problems, people, and responsibilities when they present themselves, my life would be far better. People in my life would be better off.

I could make a list of all these separate things and make them goals. Or I could pick one word to follow.

What’s your word?

Tomorrow: Part II – Some help finding your One Word

And if you feel a dream hiding inside you but you don’t know what it is, 2013 could be the year you get clarity and go after it. I have a free ebook for you, Fuzzy Hope: Courage and a kick to track down the dream you feel but can’t see. To get it, sign up for free updates using the form on the upper right. 

My favorite 20 words this year from the Christmas story

No not the Ralphie Christmas Story; the real one.

Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord

– Luke 1.45

Pregnant Elizabeth is telling pregnant Mary that it’s good that Mary is not like Elizabeth’s husband. He didn’t believe it when God told him he would be a dad. He knew he was too old.

Mary DID believe it when God told her she would have a baby. Without sex. The baby would come from God.

I have some things I think God has told me. Shame on me when I don’t believe it.

If something is your own idea, that’s fine. But if you’re convinced the idea is from God then shame on you too when you don’t believe it.

Why don’t we decide together to believe it before we see it? We’ll be in good company.

Don’t over think God’s ‘big’ plans for you

I walk out the front door with the dog.

I think, this morning I’ll just let her go where she wants. Sometimes I have a preference for going to the right and moseying around the ponds, or left and walking the streets by the condos. This morning I think I’ll let her pick.

In the end it really doesn’t matter which way we go. The issues of our walk will be the same.

She has to take care of her doggie bidness and she needs a little exercise. That’s the same if we go left or right.

How bullheaded will she be? Will she try to stop every five feet to root something out of the grass? Will she follow every impulse and distraction, or will she show some discipline? When I tug the leash will she come with me or will she insist on her own way? Will this be a pleasant, cooperative walk or a battle? When it’s a battle her walk is shorter. These issues are all the same if we go right or left.

She turns left and I’m fine with that. Isn’t going to affect the important stuff.

Ding-ding Mr. Dogwalker! Is this just about the dog?

We walk and go through the rhythm of the doggie constitutional, plus all the sniffing and tugging. I start thinking of how easy it is to spend a lot of energy micromanaging my understanding of God’s ‘big’ plans for me, but how most of the time he’s probably more concerned with the quality of our walk. I imagine him thinking the same thing that I thought when I walked out the front door.

Left or right, why don’t you pick? Either way, our relationship is the biggie and you’ve got to deal with the issues of that relationship no matter which way we go.

Since our walk together is what counts, why do you act like the destination and the scenery is the main thing?

Are you going to be bullheaded? Will you always be distracted by trifles? Will you constantly test the limits of the leash as if it’s not there to keep you from running out in the street in front of a car like you’re prone to do? Will you always want more – over here! over here! – never having enough?

Or can you stay calm and rest, and be content and trust? And make this whole walk personal, just between you and me, no matter where it leads?

If you take care of our relationship I can take you anywhere I want, and it will be what you want, too. Is that good enough for you?

Are you frustrated with discovering or following God’s big plans for you? Is the quality of your walk with him enough?

Have you met your Squanto?

My wife said the little story I told her of how Squanto helped the Pilgrims was something every third grader learns.

And then forgets.

Squanto taught the Pilgrims to grow corn which would save their lives. He showed them how to fertilize the corn with fish. Since they couldn’t catch fish he taught them that, too, plus how to stalk deer, plant pumpkins, harvest maple syrup, and sell beaver pelts.

He was an Indian who spoke English and who needed a reason to live after all his family died. He’d had a tragic, adventurous life as a victim of kidnapping and almost slavery. He lived in Europe for years and finally returned to his homeland finding his family dead and gone.

Then a friend introduced him to these clueless foreigners.

The Pilgrims didn’t ask for Squanto. Didn’t go looking for him. Didn’t even know they needed him.

Sometimes the crucial key is kept a secret from you

Like a turkey cooking in an invisible oven.

When you finally get it, your thanksgiving increases.

Maybe that’s the plan the whole time.

When have you experienced a Squanto, realizing later that this thing has been prepared for you over time?

Your hopes and dreams are a dot : Day 26 of 31

You’re not here to live a disconnected, depressed, non-contributing, helpless, excuse-filled, humdrum life.

Inside you is the drive to create, contribute, connect, and leave a mark.

You sense this. You know it’s true.

That doesn’t mean you want to climb Mt. Everest. Or maybe it does.

You may want to be married. You may want to raise kids. You may want a job or a promotion. If you want these things you want to be successful at them.

Or you may want things to stay the same and NEVER CHANGE — and that’s a hope and dream, too.

Your hopes and dreams might take the form of an event, a circumstance, or money.

Or healing.
Or restoration.
A person.
A relationship.

A size.

An amount.
An accomplishment.
A feeling.
A lifestyle.
A legacy.
A place.
A vague “times will be better.”
Or a career.
A role.
A title.

Whatever your hopes and dreams, they cannot remain an unconnected dot. Impossible.

If you want to climb Mt. Everest you won’t just walk there and start climbing. You’ll prepare, hire sherpas, raise money, rehearse, and develop a taste for garlic, GORP, and spam.

You know you’ll confront a million frustrations and things that don’t make sense. You know you could wear out and give up. To get there you must understand yourself, and other people, and the world of mountain climbing.

So you’ll team up with someone experienced, who possesses deep discernment of each of these things and how they relate. Someone who smells like garlic.

Because you know your hopes and dreams depend on connecting the dots.

Think of one hope or dream you have. What do you need to understand about yourself, your world, God, and other people in order for it to happen? What needs to connect?  


Day 26 of 31 Days of Connecting the Dots: make more sense of your life, your world, your hopes and dreamsYou can visit the Nester to choose from over 1,200 more 31 Dayers.