We moved to Michigan in March of 2013. During the past 14 months, we have enjoyed getting to know our new home, learning about the area and beginning the process of understanding the people and cultural dynamics that affect my job here at the camp. This is a great state with four distinct seasons, nice people and some beautiful scenery.
It’s also a state that has been hammered by the economic downturn of the past few years. The auto industry was the backbone of this state’s economy for so long, and today it is barely a shadow of what it once was. A million people have left Detroit, The Motor City, and houses, buildings, schools and businesses have been abandoned to be vandalized and ultimately destroyed. Detroit is the largest city to ever file for bankruptcy.
Detroit might be the biggest city hit, but it’s not the only. Almost every town in Michigan has houses and business that have been abandoned during these past ten years. At one point, Michigan was one of just a few states with a negative growth rate: more people were leaving MI than moving here.
As part of my new job, I’ve had the privilege of traveling all over this great state, and everywhere I’ve gone I have seen the effect of Michigan’s struggle. Just this last week we drove through a town and saw “Two Brother’s Bakery” all painted up on the outside, totally shutdown on the inside. A sign in the windows says, “Closed for the season, see you in 2011.” We passed a run down hotel, an abandoned gas station, we even drove through a neighborhood where 10 of 12 businesses had moved out of a strip mall, and it looked more like the set of a zombie apocalypse movie than a place people would go to buy party supplies, get a hair cut, grab a bit to eat or meet friends for coffee.
Traci and I were talking about some of these buildings and wondering about the previous owners, wondering out loud what had happened there. Most businesses are started with a fundamental dream to do something awesome. I don’t know many business owners who start a business and hope it fails. Often, big loans are acquired to get things started, savings accounts are depleted in hopes of soon overflowing with new income, and countless hours are spent by friends and family members painting walls, hanging signs, comparing other stores online and spreading the word about a new business.
And then one day it all died. The neighborhood changed as people moved away. The income of his customers dried up. The bank said “no” to her next loan request and all of the sudden, the dream seemed hopeless. Traci and I speculated about whether or not some of these businesses reopened later in another location. We wondered whether or not the owner started a totally different type of business, or if she just packed up and found a job wherever she could, or maybe he just left it all behind and started a new life in another state or country; the empty buildings a remnant of a past life.
Whatever happened, the desolation and emptiness that’s left behind is a little haunting. Whether things changed because of bad business acumen or because of social/cultural/economic issues, the reality is that these dreams are done. Our friend Michael suffered such loss when his fruit stand and neighborhood market went under. The final day he was open, as he sold off everything but the doors and windows, Traci and I visited with him. He was devastated. He owed a lot of money to the bank and to some family members, and now he was returning to an hourly job in construction. His spirit was crushed. His family had suffered because of the business and his dreams for financial freedom seemed destroyed as he turned over the “Closed” sign for the last time.
Those abandoned buildings and financial woes are the reason some of us never dream. We like the comfort and stability that comes with not dreaming. There’s not as much risk when you don’t dream, there are fewer unknowns and generally speaking, the outcome is far more predictable when you work inside the box. And if you live this way long enough, you can practically kill off any internal motivation to dream in the future. Soon, you don’t even want to think about something as dangerous as a dream.
Yet that seems so contrary to how God made us. It seems each of us a capacity, indeed a built-in desire, to pursue something bigger than what we can see. Sure, you can dull that desire and practically destroy it by constantly ignoring it, but it never totally goes away. I’ve visited with prisoners who have 20 years left to go on their sentence, and they are talking about their future outside of jail. I’ve met cancer patients facing a terminal prognosis who are dreaming about life after they kick cancer to the curb. I’ve met homeless men and women who have larger-than-life goals when their financial situations turn around. Traci and I have met some stay-at-home moms who want to manage their homes with excellence while jump-starting their own businesses on the side.
In fact, the truth is, as a pastor, friend, coach and writer, I have never talked to anyone who didn’t have some hopes and dreams for something different. Sometimes those dreams were hidden deep in the recesses of some small corner in the back of their brain, but with the right questions, enough prodding and sometimes threats to keep them locked in my office until they shared their dreams, something emerged. Dreams for a vacation with the wife. Dreams for a better a life for their children. Dreams for financial security. Dreams to reach their neighbors for Jesus.
I believe the Overboard Life is dream-driven. The whole notion of getting out of the boat is based on the belief that you can walk on water -- you can do something that seems almost impossible to you now! Dreams are risky, they are hard to attain (or you would already have them!), they change, they move, they morph, they grow and just when you think you can lunge and grab them, they shift upward just out of your grasp. And so many people stay in the comfort of the boat because of those factors.
But not you and me. Not anyone who wants to live the Overboard Life. Like Paul, we “press on toward the prize” of a life lived for God. With the writer of Hebrews, [we] throw off everything that hinders" in this world so that we can be something different, focused on Jesus, running toward a bigger-than-life goal. Maybe it’s like my friend Tim who sets up each week in downtown Salem with a desk, a white board and a question. He uses a question written out on a white board to talk to total strangers about Jesus, and shares his heart with them. Maybe it’s like our friends Andy and Jodie who traveled to Tanzania to be a part of helping a people group know the story of a God who loves them so much, that He sent His only Son to die for their sins. Or it could be like my friend Jay, who runs several successful businesses and uses each of his ventures as a means to show God through beauty, creativity and other powerful expressions of his faith. Or it could be like our friend Nora who uses her teaching job as a way to show the mercy and grace of God to children and families in need.
What about you, what God-sized dreams do you have? Do you want to start a business? Write a book? Start a publishing company? Parent better? Have an off-the-charts marriage? Improve your health? Get to know your neighbors? Learn a new skill? Become a public speaker? [enter your dream here]?
By God’s grace, I want to live a dream-driven life, with my faith placed squarely on the One who put those dreams in my heart. This isn’t a “I can do anything I want” motivational blog, this is a “I can do all things through Him, who gives me strength” kind of a speech. This is a “God gives you everything you need to do everything He wants you to do” kind of a speech. And when you put your faith in Him, grab the sides of the boat and jump, all of your dreams are within reach. The Dream Giver, is the One who makes them a reality, too.
I hope you’re chasing your God-sized dream today. I don’t need you to chase mine, and I don’t want to chase yours (but I want to help you reach them! Let me know what I can do!). God made you specifically for dreams He placed in your heart, and it’s time for you to “throw off everything that hinders” and “fix your eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2) as you go after them!
Go ahead and take the plunge, your dreams are always better on the water!