I have always been a dreamer. I am rarely completely content with how things are. There is always that majestic “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV) looming just ahead of me. I refuse to settle for just a job. And I struggle to believe that people can’t change, that I and my situation won’t change.
I resonate with Jack Kelly more than any other musical character. Throughout the Broadway show, Newsies, he is shown rising to the challenges before him, while dreaming of a simpler life, which he believes can be found in Santa Fe.
“And I’m gone.
And I’m done.
No more running. No more lying.
No more fat old man denying me my pay.
Just a moon so big and yellow, it turns night right into day.
Dreams come true. Yeah they do. In Santa Fe.”
*All lyrics taken from Jack Feldman’s song “Santa Fe” from the musical “Newsies.”
My Santa Fe is San Jose. When I think of that city, I remember a time when life was simpler and when my dreams first began to come to life. San Jose was the first place I had people I looked up to who believed in me and invested in me. In San Jose, I fell in love with the Bible. I met people who would become lifelong friends. I was part of a church that was life-giving.
But then stuff happened, as it always does. And I left. I went to Jerusalem. Many people accused me of running away. I think I was running away less than trying to find something to run to. This has happened many times.
“Let me go.
Somewhere they won’t ever find me, and tomorrow won’t remind me of today.”
In Jerusalem, I changed. Faith was no longer this simple belief system that surrounded me, it became something I had to fight for. Friendships were quickly made and gone, although I am thankful for the friends I still have around the world. At the same time, the Bible continued to come to life before my eyes and I came to see God in a way I hadn’t before. Jerusalem was for me a place of transformation. But it was also the place that stole my simple faith, changing how and why I believed.
I came back home after a year and a half, only to find that everyone else had moved on with their lives and were closer to their dreams than I was. The things I wanted weren’t as attainable as I had believed. So I taught. I volunteered at my church. I began to grow disillusioned that life was the grand adventure I once believed it would be.
“Why should you only take what you’re given?
Why should you spend your whole life living trapped where there ain’t no future.”
The disillusion lasted for nearly a decade, although I don’t think I completely realized it then. I also don’t believe I wasted those years. I continued studying. I continued serving. I invested in others. I believed for them. But I didn’t know what to believe for myself. I fell in love several times and thought each time that it was the answer I was looking for, but it turned out to be an empty promise. My years of studying and earned degrees hadn’t led to a better career or an easier life. I moved my life again, this time hundreds of miles from home, but found loneliness instead of the adventure I had hoped for.
When all my dreams came apart, I dared God to act, to not waste this time. The answer didn’t come right away, but stubbornness is also a trait of dreamers, and I stayed, waiting, despite the many appeals that I should return home, that there was nothing for me here in LA.
“Santa Fe, my old friend.
I can’t spend my whole life dreaming.
‘Though I know that’s all I seem inclined to do.
I ain’t getting any younger.
And I wanna start brand new.”
God is a God worth waiting for. And while he doesn’t act on our time frame, he always acts. At the time, I felt like I was waiting forever, while he gently reminded me that he was still listening, still seeing me the way he always paid attention to his people when they cried out to him.
Someone told me that God had me here for a reason, although it wasn’t the reason I thought it was. No kidding. Someone else, while praying for me, said that God wanted me to know that he had not forgotten me. No one had heard my private prayers, but that had been the theme of them for some time. A new community took me in as one of their own and loved me as my wounds were healed.
I had hints of God’s action on my behalf. But not enough that I could give myself over to my dreams again. I had a job and a place to life. I was making things work. I was surviving. And still I waited.
“I need space. And fresh air.
Let ’em laugh in my face. I don’t care.
Save my place. I’ll be there.”
As far as I know, Santa Fe never happened for Jack Kelly. And I never got to go back to a simpler life. I also haven’t received a lot of the things I thought at one point would be the answer. Marriage. A career as a Bible professor. A Ph.D. Instead, God began reshaping my dreams, first reminding me of an ancient calling, one I had repressed since high school, the call to minister within the church, and second, giving me a heart for reconciliation between ethnicities, cultures, and generations, and above all reconciliation between people and God. A Korean church asked me to serve with them and it was there that I heard God speak clearly to me. “I can bring you back to life here.”
It’s been a crazy adventure since that moment. I found a joy in serving that was beyond anything I had ever known before. I realized how much I loved investing in teenagers. I heard God whisper to me that he really had intended for me to serve the church all this time. And yet, it was in a completely different context, a more difficult way, than I had ever dreamed. I followed him back to seminary, this time understanding why I was there and what I needed to learn to be effective in my vocation. I followed him to an internship, where I was surrounded with people who once again supported me, and believed in me, and encouraged me to continue to follow God. And when I graduated, he led me once again to a people who I had not expected, but have come to love deeply over the past few months.
“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Romans 5:2b-4 NIV
There is something about being a dreamer that I think resonates with the heart of God. Dreams are what allow us to hope. And our God is a God of hope. He never gives up on us or on the dreams that he has given us, but continues to shape them and to shape us, as we grow into the people he has created us to be. I’m glad I didn’t run away. And I’m incredibly thankful that he restored my ability to dream, by giving me dreams worth dreaming. The life I now have is so much more than I imagined. And while it’s still scary at times, it is filled with hope that comes from seeing God.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”