A few days ago my family took a drive in our twelve-passenger van. My eleven-year-old brother sat on the row behind me, chatting enthusiastically with some of our other siblings. At one point he announced, “I’ve got my whole life planned out.”
I chuckled and smiled. “Oh yeah?” I turned around in my seat to face my brother. “So what are your plans?”
“After I graduate from high school I’ll go on a mission. Then I’ll go to college, graduate, get married, get a PhD, and be an architect.” My brother beamed as he explained his perfectly planned life. He had estimated how long his goals would take, and he had everything timed to the year.
Bless his heart.
When I heard all these plans, the little cynic inside me cringed and called back a flood of memories. I saw my own fifth-grade self, the little frizzy-haired girl dead set on growing up to be an artist. I sketched and scribbled furiously, day in, day out, during class, during church, on my homework, in my books. My vocation seemed clear: God had sent me on earth to touch lives through art. That’s a tall order to fill, and I figured I needed a head-start. So I drew and I painted incessantly, planning out my career as an artist. I pictured myself happily housed in a cozy studio, sloshing paint, smearing charcoal, my hands stained by the tools of my work.
But over the years, that dream changed. I suddenly found myself drifting away from my sketch pad, spending free time with my nose buried deep in biographies. Soon every piece of artwork I produced depicted historical scenes—a trend I tried to ignore, even though my teacher and classmates kept bringing it up. My interests were changing, and so were my plans. I recall the first time I admitted this shift—both personally and publicly. When my tenth grade counselor looked over the records the junior high school had sent, she asked if I still planned on becoming an artist.
For the first time in my life, I hesitated. “No,” I said, pausing for an instant. “No . . . I think I might want to do something in history instead.”
It was my first big experience grappling with life-changing jolts in my plans. And look where it got me—a third year history major preparing for graduate studies. All those thoughts I had as a fifth grader, all those dreams, all those plans—they all fell apart right before my eyes. Everything altered drastically.
As I sat in the van listening to my brother outline his plans for his future, a piece of me wanted to warn him of what might potentially come. I wanted to sigh and say, “Well, sorry, bud, but your life probably won’t turn out quite that way,” and then fill him in on the account of my shattered artistic career.
But instead, I said nothing. I chose to let him hang onto his plans. Somewhere in my heart I felt proud of my brother for dreaming. After all, isn’t that part of childhood? Every child deserves to envision himself as an astronaut or the president of the United States or a cowboy or a firefighter, if only just once in his life.
But part of growing up is learning how to deal with change as it comes. A person matures as he learns to navigate bumps in the road that necessitate tweaks in life plans. Not everyone’s childhood dreams disappear quite the way my art world diffused to become a mere hobby. Some folks, after all, do actually become astronauts, presidents, cowboys, and firefighters after years of working and dreaming and growing into the vision. But even then, those astronauts likely discover more physics and calculus lurking behind the job than their childhood minds fathomed. And they have to learn to accept that change if they want their dreams to survive. They have to learn to evaluate the demands of implementing their dreams. They discover that balance is key to make visions concrete—balance, that is, between hopes and logistics, between aspirations and realities.
Sometimes “growing up” means that we learn to accept the harder, more mundane aspects of our dreams. Sometimes it means learning to change our dreams entirely—to sacrifice the would-be artist inside us to make room for a budding historian. Sometimes it means accepting that God’s plans are better than ours, even though we can’t figure out how or why, or even what His plans are to begin with. Sometimes “growing up” means walking in the darkness that always shrouds our minds when we need to learn faith.
I’ve noticed much of this in my life recently. God’s been trying to help me grow up, I guess—and goodness knows, I sure need it. But it’s uncomfortable, so I whine and complain like the misbehaved toddler I still am at heart. The most recent edition of my growing-up plan involved moving across the country for an internship, even though the internship I wanted wasn’t the one that I got, even though I could have sat comfortably at home with the family I love, even though I still—to this day—feel quite nervous about how to fund this little excursion without taking hard hits in the future. In short, my dreams have reached nitty-gritty realities, and although I feel like I’m where God wants me to be, I still can’t quite figure out why He wants me here, or what it is that He wants me to learn or do through all this.
Perhaps I’ll never know.
But that’s part of growing up—learning to dream through uncertainty, learning to marry my will to God’s, learning to keep childlike fires alive in my heart despite messy logistics and hazy unknowns.
So I present this blog in dedication. Here’s to fifth graders with the power to dream. Here’s to plans that peel back when a new dream is born. Here’s to the path that’s concealed in the fog of the future, patiently waiting to lead us through God’s perfect plans.
You inspire me with your faith, hope, and confidence.
I want to be just like you when I finally grow up.