When You’ve Blown It

This will be the most difficult post I’ve written.

When I was very young, I had dreams. I know that all kids have dreams, but these were different. While I didn’t understand them at the time, I realized many years later that they were prophetic, a foretelling of a part of my life many years down the road. During these dreams, it was my wedding day. However, I didn’t know who my bride was, so I spent the entirety of the dream going around and asking different people who I was going to marry. And yet, in all the times I had that dream, I never found out who she was.

From as early as I can remember, I looked forward to the day that I’d get married, even when my classmates still thought that girls were icky. I can’t really tell you why; all I knew is that even though I didn’t understand it, whatever it was that my parents had was something beautiful, and I looked forward to the day when I could have something like that too. The only problem was – I was that quiet, shy kid that most classes have, and I didn’t really fit in with my classmates. As a result, I didn’t really get noticed by girls. Sure, I had a couple of crushes along the way, but they never turned into anything more than that.

By the time I graduated from college, things hadn’t really changed in that area. By then, I had become the “safe,” tenderhearted guy that girls could talk to about anything, but never became anything more than friends with. Which was kind of frustrating to me, because, even though I enjoyed having a special place in my friends’ lives, I still really looked forward to the day when I could be more than just someone’s friend.

After walking off the platform with my diploma in hand, getting ready to start my first job as a college graduate, I took stock of where my life was, and realized some things needed to change. The biggest area was my connection with God. I realized that up until this time, my interaction with Him had been primarily utilitarian rather than relational, and that that needed to change. So, for the first time in my life, I started to cultivate and develop my faith, beginning a very real, very close relationship with Christ, and over the course of the two years that followed, my life changed in ways that I could never have imagined.

And then the spring of 2005 happened. My friends and I were run out of the church we had been attending for a couple of years because we were viewed by the older congregants as being subversive due to the way we dressed, the music we liked, and the way we acted. A few months after that, all of my closest friends left town over the course of a two-month span, heading in their own directions to start new jobs. And so, I began attending a new church, meeting new people, making new friends, and stepping into the next stage of my life. And for the most part, loving every moment of it – except for still being single.

Around this same time, God started putting one of my college classmates on my heart to pray for. I’ll call her Jane Doe. When I was in college, Jane was my small group leader my senior year, and probably the strongest, most authentic Christ follower I’d ever met. However, after 9/11 happened, she had started to struggle a little bit with her faith. A class she took in college and some other things that happened widened these struggles, and by the end of her Junior year she had walked away from her faith, denying Christ and confronting anyone who called her a Christian.

And so, I prayed for Jane regularly. Any time I’d get busy and forget to do so for a couple of days, God would put her on my heart again and remind me to pray for her. I emailed Jane every once in a while to see how she was doing, and talk a little bit about what was going on in my life, and in some of our mutual friends’ lives. But I never heard back from her. So, I just continued to pray for her about whatever God happened to lay on my heart that day.

A couple of months passed, and, while I had been making new friends at my church, I still very much missed my friends from college. I had been keeping in touch with them through email and phone calls, but long-distance friendships are difficult to adjust to when you’ve spent the last few years living minutes apart.

One weekend at the end of October I emailed my friend Angie to talk about how rough it had been lately, and she emailed back to say that she’d call me that afternoon after they got done with church. The first thing she asked me when I picked up the phone was how my prayer life had been going lately, and I answered honestly that it hadn’t been. So she encouraged me to spend some time in prayer that evening, because sometimes when God seems the most distant, it’s because He wants us to draw closer to Him to hear His Voice. And so that evening, I went to bed very early so that I could have a couple of hours of prayer before I went to sleep. I prayed for my family, friends, coworkers – anyone and anything that came through my mind as I sat there. As I started to pray for my friends Phil and Angie, something happened that I will never forget – I audibly heard God speak to me, as if He was sitting in the room right next to me.

“Jane Doe is the one you’re going to marry.”

I sat there, stunned. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, and I didn’t really know what to think. So after a few minutes, I did what seemed to be the most logical thing at the time – I prayed “I’m sorry, I can’t believe that.” Afterwards, I continued praying where I’d left off, and went to sleep.

The next morning, what had happened was still running through the back of my mind when I woke up, and I realized how I’d responded. I spent the day fasting, and at lunch went to the chapel on campus to spend some time in prayer. I apologized to God for doubting, and asked that if what I’d heard was from Him, that He would make it unmistakably clear to me.

That evening, a couple of my friends and I went to a concert in Bloomington, and on the drive home, I felt like I was supposed to email Jane just to say howdy and that I hoped all was well, so when I got home that evening, I sent her a quick email.

Thursday of that week was like pretty much any other day. I didn’t go to lunch right away because I was finishing up a project, and right as I was getting ready to walk out the door, I decided to check my email one more time. When I did so, I saw an email from Jane, the subject of which said, “Subliminal message: check your email.” She asked if I had lunch plans that day, so I responded back that I didn’t, and we headed to the local Mexican restaurant for lunch. As we sat there at the restaurant talking and catching up on life, in the back of my mind, all I could think about was what had happened on Sunday and what I’d prayed on Monday, and I realized – “oh wow, it’s actually true!” I knew that this was the answer to the prayer I’d prayed on Monday. But when I dropped her off for her next class that afternoon, it was the last time that I would see her for a long time.

Up until this point, I hadn’t talked to anyone else about what had happened, because I wanted to be sure first. Even then, I knew that I would have to be very careful about who I told, for a number of reasons. First off, most people would probably think I was nuts and try to convince me that what I knew had happened, hadn’t really happened. Secondly, I figured that whatever the coming weeks held, they would definitely be made more complicated if Jane were to hear about it from someone else. But probably the biggest reason I didn’t want to talk to many people about what happened is because I had absolutely no idea what to do with this information that I was given.

I did end up telling a couple of people I was very close to however. One of my friends was very excited for me. Another said, “Just remember – God’s timing isn’t always necessarily our timing.” A third said, “This can not happen,” knowing what Jane had been going through in recent months, and not wanting me to be involved in her life out of concern for my well-being. The few others I told basically fell into one of those categories. In all though, I felt very much alone. Even with the support from some of my friends, in reality, I had no idea how to proceed. So I prayed.

The difficult thing for me about this period is that I never really felt like I received a response from God as to how to proceed. So in the month that followed, I decided that I should continue doing as I had been doing – trying to treat her as one of my friends. When my friends made plans to get together, I would write her a quick email, send her a letter, or sometimes call and leave a message on her answering machine. When stuff happened in life, I’d do the same. I tried to keep her updated about what was going on in my life and the lives of some of our mutual friends. But I never heard back.

As time passed, I found myself focusing on what I’d been told more and more. This was compounded by my small group starting a study on marriage, which made the ache and longing to see God’s plans come to fruition that much stronger. And when that didn’t happen, I made the classic blunder – I tried to help God out. At one point I even wrote Jane a letter and told her that I loved her, and for Christmas that year, I sent her a Willow Tree figurine as a present.

On New Year’s Eve, I headed out of town to go visit my friends in Springfield, and on the long trip, I decided to call her house and see if she was around and wanted to talk. As I started to leave a message on her answering machine, her mom picked up the phone, and we talked for a little bit. She said that she was concerned, and that she wanted me to stop trying to contact Jane. As I hung up the phone, I was very confused, and disheartened. I didn’t really know what to do, or what to think. I spent a little bit of time in prayer, talking to God about what happened and how I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do.

When I got home from my friends’ that evening, I went straight to bed. The next morning when I woke up, I couldn’t move; my gaze was fixed in front of me as if I was watching what was happening through a TV. I was standing in a kitchen. It was a dreary, gray day outside, but no lights were on, so everything had a grayish tint. The ceiling of the kitchen was white, the walls were white, the appliances were white, and the floor was black and white square tile. In front of me was the back door of the house; to my right, the dining room and stairwell to the second floor. As I stood in the kitchen, people started coming down the stairs, through the dining room, and into the kitchen, marching in single file, chanting “wait.” “wait.” I went to open the back door, but it was stuck, so I yanked it open. More people were filing into the kitchen, still marching and chanting as they did so. I reached for the storm door to open it, but it was stuck too, so I forced it open as well. I looked over and saw the kitchen and dining room packed with people, marching in place, still chanting, “wait.” I turned around, walked out the back door, down the sidewalk, and out to the street. When I reached the street, I turned around and looked at the house, at which point it collapsed. Right after the roof hit the ground, the dream ended, and I was lying in my bed, staring at the light streaming in through the window.

There had been several times in my life before this point that God had spoken to me through dreams (besides the ones as a young child,) so I knew what they were like. And I knew that this was one of them. The problem was, I didn’t know what to think about it yet. I knew from experience (and from talking to other people) that when you are given a dream, the meaning can take weeks, months, or years to be fully revealed. I told one of my closest friends about the dream, and he said that the one thing that really stuck out to him was the “wait” part. I still didn’t really know what to think however. Still remembering the conversation with Jane’s mother the day before, it made me wonder if this meant that I should have waited, but didn’t, so I blew things? Or did this mean that if I didn’t wait on God I would blow it? Or that I’d started to walk away from what I’d been told, but still had a second chance (hence the two doors)? I didn’t really know.

Things didn’t really get any easier after that point. I knew God’s heart, His Grace, and His forgiveness, so I trusted that what I was shown was a warning about what would happen if I didn’t trust Him and wait on Him to move – that if I tried to make things happen again, I would cause ‘the house to collapse’ – I’d walk away from what God had shown me, and there wouldn’t be another chance. However, my screw-ups of the past frequently came to my mind, and I questioned whether I had already blown it and was deceiving myself that I had another chance.

This was the struggle I lived with for a number of months. As time passed, it became more and more difficult to hold on to what God had spoken to me, and then shown me. Friends that previously had encouraged me were now asking questions, and even trying to push me in other directions by trying to set me up on dates with people.

A year later, I found myself much stronger in my faith and with a much deeper relationship with God than I had ever known. I was very involved in my church, and had become a youth leader there, working with the Junior High and High School kids. Our small group was thriving, growing so quickly that it had to split twice because there were too many people to fit into one living room. And, my friendships continued to grow deeper and deeper. But, I still struggled with isolation. I didn’t feel like I could talk to other people about what had happened, and so I didn’t have an answer for them when they would ask why I wasn’t dating anyone.

Whenever I would really struggle, I would turn to the Old Testament accounts of David, Moses, and especially Abraham. I could relate to Abraham’s struggles with God’s promise of Isaac, and His delayed answer of that promise. I also tried to learn from Abraham’s mistake of trying to help God in the process. I could understand Moses’ frustration wandering through the wilderness for forty years waiting to enter the Promised Land. But even still, my struggles grew as time passed.

As summer waned into fall that year, I found myself becoming better friends with one of the women in our small group, and as our friendship continued to deepen, I started to develop feelings for her. Which presented me with a great dilemma. I had been trying very hard to hold on to what God had shown me nearly two years prior, and yet, I hadn’t seen any progress in that area, and really began to struggle with whether the dream I’d been given on New Years actually had meant that I’d blown it. When you combine that struggle with the questions I’d been dealing with from people that knew the details of my situation, my resolve slowly weakened over time, and finally I made the decision that I was going to ask my friend from small group out.

The night before I planned to take that step, however, something happened. As I was sleeping that night, at the end of one of my dreams, the other people in the dream and I became aware that something was happening. One of the people commented, “Is Heaven coming down, or are we going up?” And the other person replied, “Well, we’re not going up, so Heaven must be coming down.” At that moment I woke up, but again, couldn’t move. I was laying on my left side, looking up at the corner of my bedroom. As I laid there, I saw a man appear before me, only, I could see through him. He had a graying beard and hair, and was wearing a red patterned shawl. As he stood there, he waved his hand over me and was saying something that I couldn’t understand. After a few minutes, he disappeared, and I could move again.

In my heart, I knew what this meant – that I was supposed to wait on Jane still. However, I hardened my heart, and decided that I didn’t care, I was tired of waiting and was going to ask my friend from small group out anyhow. Not being able to shake the vision however, I emailed the two other guys from the dream I’d been having right before I had the vision, to see if it meant anything to them. One of them, a friend of mine, said that it didn’t mean anything to him, but that he would pray for me so that God would reveal its meaning. The other, a pastor, said he thought I must have eaten something weird for dinner the night before.

Needless to say, I did what I wanted, and I asked my friend out, even though at that point, I knew what she was going to say. And I was right – she said that, while she valued our friendship, she didn’t have feelings for me the way that I did for her.

At that point, I didn’t really know what to do or think. Over the course of the next two years, I really struggled with what had happened, the choices I’d made, and whether I’d totally blown it or still had a chance. I beat myself up continually, wishing that I could go back and make a different decision, or that I could make amends and still have things work out like God had originally planned. At the same time, I struggled with whether I should continue waiting, or whether I should just try to move on with my life. It was a very difficult time of uncertainty and living with the shame of knowing that I had walked away from God’s leading.

Towards the end of those two years, one of Jane’s and my mutual friends told me that Jane had just had something very significant happen in her life. One of my other friends had had something very similar happen to her, and as a result, I knew of the struggles it had caused between my friend and her family, and the burdens it caused her as well. I had been very proud of how my friend had handled things, because the outcome of her decision could have been much different (and I had told both her, and her family, how proud I was of her for the choices she had made.) And so, I decided that I wanted to do the same thing for Jane.

I prayed for a while that God would use this opportunity to show me whether I had in fact blown it two years before, or if there was still a chance. And so, one day, I wrote Jane a quick note telling her I was proud of her, picked up a gift card, and drove to her parents’ house with it.

When I arrived at their house, her mom opened the door, and Jane was right behind her. Jane looked confused about why I was there, so I told her mom that I had come to drop something off for her. She took the card, and started to shake my hand, but when I introduced myself, she immediately turned cold. I told her that all I had wanted to do was drop the card off for Jane, and she said that she would make sure that Jane got it. After that, I turned around and walked away. And as I drove away, I knew that I had, in fact, blown it a couple of years prior, and it was time for me to figure out how to move forward.

That was the beginning of a very difficult journey in my life, culminating in what’s been referred to by others as “the wall.” It’s a period where God uses something very significant in our lives to take us back through things that have happened in our past, and allow us to deal with and heal from them. It’s a necessary process to go through so that we can move forward in our faith, free from the things of the past that continually drag us down and pull us back. While I won’t go through the specifics of it here, I wrote about it a couple of years ago, and you can read about it here.

It took me several months to go through “the wall,” and to get to a point in my life where I had worked through enough things that my life could begin to return to normal. Although, at this point, it was a new “normal.” For the first time in my life, I understood a number of the things that had affected my views of myself and the world around me, and I had been able to heal from a lot of emotional baggage that I hadn’t even realized that I had been carrying with me. However, I still greatly struggled with the choices I had made regarding Jane. For some reason, I wasn’t able to forgive myself for what had happened, for not being able to wait on God’s timing and trusting Him. 

One day at church, our pastor preached a sermon on God’s redemption of our broken lives, and illustrated his point by dropping a ceramic plate into a box full of rocks, causing the plate to shatter. At the end of the sermon, he reached back into the box and pulled out a new plate, illustrating God’s ability to expertly reassemble our lives when bad things happen. However, as he pulled the new plate out of the box, God spoke to my heart that when He does this redemptive work in our lives, rather than appearing as a new plate, instead our lives appear more like a stained glass window – a mosaic of broken pieces that paint a beautiful picture.

Ultimately, while God did not bring Jane and I together, He did redeem my choices, and a few years later, brought an amazing woman named Christina into my life. We got married this past July, and are expecting our first child this upcoming July. Shortly after my wife and I got married, God spoke to my heart that, while Jane and I would have been perfect for each other at that point in our lives if I had followed His leading then, that He had brought Christina and I together because we were perfect for each other now. And that, while the choices I made in the past did alter my future, they did not destroy or derail God’s plans for our lives. Instead, after I chose to walk away from God’s plans, when I asked for forgiveness, He redeemed the broken pieces of my life, and turned them into something beautiful once again. Not unbroken, not flawless, but much like a stained glass window – evident of the brokenness of the past, but reflective of the beauty and love of my Creator – evidence for the world around me to see His Character.

And it is for that reason that I write this post – exposing the most painful, shameful part of my past for all of the world to read about – so that they might know the love, redemption, and grace of our Savior – even when you feel like you’ve blown it.