Women's conference speaker and professional counselor Rinehart (Strong Women, Soft Hearts) offers Christian women redemptive hope in a world where dreaming can be a dangerous endeavor. Rinehart tells her own story of living in dull "sepia" days, bound by life's disappointments and doubting Christian claims. Such skepticism eventually led her to serious explorations in Jungian psychology, which she now views as a period when she was committing "spiritual adultery." Wrestling through personal faith issues proved painful, yet incredibly freeing, as Rinehart allowed God's mercy and knowledge of her to permeate every darkened space of her heart. Rinehart lucidly hits the mark about women's most desperate yearnings as she discusses rites of passage in which individuals make a choice to either embrace life with all its interruptions or settle into a paralyzing fear. She challenges readers to act decisively and courageously in their relationships, primarily by inviting vulnerability and loving difficult people, and she shows how to trust God's sovereignty and faithful love even through interminable setbacks. Christian women who are serious about setting a course beyond vague dreaming will appreciate Rinehart's inspiring path to a more hopeful life. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Better Than My Dreams: Finding What You Long For Where You Might Not Think to Lookby Paula Rinehart
Though the story of your life may not be what you hoped for, there are hidden treasures of grace waiting to be discovered. Face the fear of being disappointed, find the freedom to love, and learn to rest in the mercy of God with renewed confidence. Better Than My Dreams shows you that sometimes God offers a different sort of wonderful than the one we have in mind.
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BETTER THAN MY DREAMSFinding What You Long For Where You Might Not Think to Look
By PAULA RINEHART
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Paula Rinehart
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA DIFFERENT KIND OF WONDERFUL
SOMETHING BETTER THAN THE LI FE YOU DREAMED OF
Our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings And our peace is put in impossible things. -G. K. CHESTERTON
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. -LAMENTATIONS 3:21-23 KJV
In recent years I have begun to notice unexpected moments where I feel a delicious stirring of hope. It's a wild and unusual feeling, as it often occurs in situations that, humanly speaking, look pretty bleak.
Let me explain a little more. As a counselor, I listen to women share their stories all day long. I hear about the real stuff of their lives, which is not unlike my own. And as I listen to stories of, say, a father's death or a mother's drinking problem or a spouse's neglect, I am discovering that no matter what the specific circumstances may be, truly, we are all telling the same story-of loves and hopes, of our failures and our fears.
Our stories are like patchwork quilts we stitch together during seasons of joy or duress into a kind of security blanket we carry through life.
As I listen to a woman talk about her quilt or as I consider my own, two words often come to mind. But God.
If, in trying to face our lives head-on, all we had in our hands were a few psychological tools and a smattering of the best human self-help, just how lost would we stay? How condemned would we be to an endless repeating of the same-old, same-old, stuck forever in a morass of (mostly) our own making?
Perhaps this is why such a wild hope is stirred in me. For what I hear now, in other women's stories, is the first rumblings of something I've stumbled upon myself.
The struggle is a door, and inside God waits. If you are willing to walk through the portal, you find what you could not experience deeply any other way. The gospel comes to life there. The power to forgive yourself and everybody else ... a crack at discovering the way God actually redeems what seems irredeemable ... the hope of seeing him create a new ending out of a bad beginning-it's all waiting to be fleshed out.
There is really Someone there, in whose company lies the love you have longed for since you took your first breath.
BY A STRANGE ROUTE
What also surprises me about this wild hope is that it's such a sharp contrast to what I've experienced in other seasons of my life. By my midthirties, I had become one of the more disillusioned Christians I've known, then or since. I worked hard to keep my skepticism quiet, as it felt distinctly like a virus that others might catch.
If someone had asked me what was wrong, though, I could have offered only a vague response. "I'm not sure ... Life just isn't working out like I planned."
But did you have a plan, exactly?
"Well, no," I would have replied. "But God had a plan, didn't he? You know what they say: 'God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.'" And then I might have added under my breath that my present experience didn't qualify as anybody's standard definition of wonderful.
So, no, I didn't exactly have a plan ... but I did have distinct pictures in my mind of how I thought my life would look. Through the hazy outlines of the future I saw everything with a golden glow-marriage to a man who could complete my unspoken thoughts and children who lined up their lives as neatly as their shoes. I wanted a vibrant ministry to women and a quiet, lovely house on a hill. And I thought God would offer some sort of immunity from anything that deeply disturbed this happy picture.
On some unconscious level, I projected my present into the future and squared the whole equation. When I first discovered Christ during my college years, I felt like a kid who'd joined the traveling circus-or like Lucy must have felt when she fell out the back of an old wardrobe into the sparkling daze of Narnia. I was amazed at the hope of actually shedding my old self and slowly becoming the person God had in mind before my parents thought to conceive me. To think that I could be forgiven-flat-out forgiven, with no questions asked. That I was given a place in a spiritual family with bonds deeper than culture or race or trust accounts. It was incredible. It is incredible ... but in a different way than I understood then.
I took my faith and projected it into the future in rather concrete terms. These pictures in our minds are images we don't even know are there-until the videos of our lives play out differently. That was the disillusionment of my thirties. I didn't know I had stapled old dreams onto a new faith. My dreams were a warm coat, firmly attached, and they got baptized right along with the rest of me. I had created a sort of unspoken pact with God-only he hadn't signed off on the deal.
Only slowly, I think, do we separate hope from illusion. Only with time can you see the outlines of the actual dream God is shaping in and through you. For what seemed like forever, I saw only that marriage and raising children and ministry and writing books-and nearly everything-had far more challenges than anticipated. Where was the golden glow?
This movement from expectations to disillusionment to a different sort of hope is a spiritual rite of passage, I've discovered. Hope is the golden stuff that draws us along on this journey. It keeps us alive on the inside so we can actually taste and experience the wonder of belonging to God. The richness of his mercy. A power to love that is not our own. Hope is a container God shapes in your heart where faith and love can be stored-and then generously offered to others.
The journey itself, though, is often not what we expect. It can be full of detours and potholes and narrow paths. Or perhaps I should say that God has a different sort of wonderful than the one we have in mind.
WANTING THE GOOD DREAM
As you step out into life, the heat gets turned up on your dreams and desires and expectations. Your longings surface-as, indeed, they are meant to. Perhaps you didn't know you wanted a baby so much, for example, until you could not get pregnant. You might have felt the longing to be married more intensely, as good men seemed in short supply. Life has a way of awakening our hearts in big ways, and pain of some sort is usually the megaphone.
My daughter's experience is not unlike that of many, many women. The pain in her life was not the experience of infertility, but the anguish of repeated miscarriages. She would get pregnant, start to celebrate, and plan-and then the symptoms of losing a baby would begin. It was a miserable roller coaster to ride. Her friends were having babies like rabbits-babies, in some cases, they weren't even trying to have. And Allison had wanted a child since she was ten years old. She would trade her CPA for a diaper bag in a heartbeat.
Not being able to have a child threw my daughter on God like nothing else.
Many good things had come her way, easily enough, growing up. But a child-this was something that her accountant's soul could not account for and her engineer husband could not make happen. Her nose was pressed against the window of mystery-where some dreams miraculously come true and others never do.
After the grief of each miscarriage, I would offer her the same feeble words of comfort, which grew less comforting each time. You'll have a child, honey, when you aren't thinking so hard about it. I would suggest a couple of diversions. How about a pottery class, or French cooking? But she only grew more desperate, and she had questions of her own.
"Mom," she wrangled, "why is God holding out on me? Why doesn't he do this simple thing?"
Allison was up against that special enigma a woman experiences when she knows she longs for something God himself has created her to desire. This is not an ache for a fur coat. What could be more right than wanting to be a mother? A good desire-the right desire-that still doesn't happen ... now there is a challenge to explain.
In these conversations, I had less and less to say. I couldn't make the situation better, which is a hard place for any mother. And yet, by some fine irony, this was the very sort of mother-anguish my daughter wanted more than anything in the world.
How, indeed, do we explain these sorts of experiences? And who among us travels very far in life without running headlong into the gap between what we hoped for and what came to pass? Are there women out there who have never known the miscarriage of a good dream-one that really mattered in a big way?
All thoughts to the contrary, God does not always provide a detour lane around a broken dream.
THE WAY DREAMS MUTATE
So there are perfectly obvious disappointments that come our way. There's more than a bit of mystery surrounding the good dreams for which God says no or wait.
But dreams and expectations in life, especially in our culture, have a curious way of inflating. Simple hope can harden into expectation and even demand. We live in an atmosphere of demand, where a problem is something to be solved, not endured, and suffering is seen as an intruder. We are told over and over that our lives should be a certain way-and we each have our own notions of what that looks like.
A conversation with a good friend over coffee one day reminded me how easily this supersizing of expectation happens.
She was talking about a mutual acquaintance who seemed to have a rather enviable life with very few wrinkles. "But then," my friend explained, "she's always had 'the package.'"
"The package?" I asked. "What's 'the package'?"
"Oh, you know," she replied. "She went to the right school and married a sharp guy she met there. They moved into the established neighborhood his great job afforded. They have two little girls with bows in their hair, and she's working on her own career goals, a little at a time. They've got a supportive family and a wonderful church. That's the package."
Oh, wow, I thought. I guess that is a package. Of course, we know that things are rarely as good as they look and there's a worm in every apple. Still, I thought about what she said for days. It struck me how all of us-every generation, every kind of background-we all fashion images in our heads of the life we think would make us happy. Maybe it's not two little girls with bows in their hair-but trust me, it's something. And that vision easily calcifies into a package.
The irony is that this drift from hope ... to expectation ... to demand is a trap that is much easier to fall into as a Christian. C. S. Lewis was right: coming into a relationship with Jesus is, indeed, like falling out of the back of a wardrobe into the fresh wonder of a whole new world where anything can happen. Aren't we all acquainted with Jesus' words "with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26)? It's so easy to fill in the blank called "all things" with a script God never quite had in mind-or to assume that knowing Jesus will somehow spare you a heartache he actually intends to walk you through.
ENTITLEMENT: WANTING LIFE ON OUR TERMS
When our sticky fingers get wrapped around our dreams-when hope has mutated into an agenda that God is supposed to fulfill-then we are living from a place of entitlement. That's a hard word, one I could scarcely recognize in my own life until I ran square into such stinging disappointments they felt like yellow jackets at a carefully laid-out picnic.
Traveling among Christians in other cultures has helped me see the inflated notions I've carried around most of my life. I stand amazed at the sheer joy of women in Romania who for years met in parked cars in the dead of winter to study their Bibles because there was no other welcome spot. I am humbled by the example of Chinese couples who get excited about my husband's leftover protein bars because they have no other food for the long train ride home. In the air I breathe, it's annoying to get stuck in traffic too long. And joy, unfortunately, is often reserved for pinnacle experiences-when it is meant to be the background music to my everyday life with God.
What I'm saying is that the virus of entitlement will eventually steal from you nearly everything that's good. It will bar the door to a genuine, honest experience with God that includes the best of times-and some of the worst-all in the same container.
Inflated expectations take you to an artificial place. They can work a real number on the way you see God. For when your life does not play out like the movie in your mind-when there's divorce or infertility, rejection or betrayal in your path-God may look more like Scrooge, withholding something you vitally need. He's let you down. He's left you by the side of the road to fend for yourself. That's the darker side of where we go when we cling to this invisible demand of entitlement.
When I suspect the presence of this virus in my life, I am often drawn to a piercingly accurate comment made by a man of the faith many years ago. I've never forgotten his words. J. B. Phillips, one of the first translators of the New Testament into modern English, wrote this:
The people who feel that God is a disappointment have not understood the terms on which we inhabit this planet.
Phillips is saying that for true joy and hope to take hold of us, we have to begin from an altogether different place. We must understand the terms on which we inhabit this planet. This is a broken world, riddled with heartache, in desperate search of a Savior-not "a well-run kindergarten where good is rewarded and evil punished."
I am not living in the land of neat packages.
The actual starting place-the terms on which we inhabit the planet-is closer to the prophet Jeremiah's take on things. "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed," he said (Lam. 3:22 KJV). No sense of entitlement there! Nothing is a given, really, not even my next breath. We are not in a position to demand. It's all a gift. That's a very different orientation to life and to God, but it is true north. Follow that path and gratitude will not be far behind.
LIFE AS A JOURNEY
So we encounter somewhere along the way this rite of passage, this right-sizing of expectation about life. You have probably discovered some of the same realities I have-that marriages and close relationships require a world of give and take, that your children have challenges even the best mother can't remedy. Perhaps you have been blindsided by a couple of stinging losses you didn't see coming-or felt like a character in a play who suddenly finds herself saying someone else's lines, as though you were reading from the wrong script and this experience could not be part of your life. But it is.
Hardly any of us travel very far without encountering at least one huge disappointment. One blot of black paint on an otherwise charming canvas. One obstacle in our path that simply refuses to yield. I used to think this was just my experience in life. And then I started to pay closer attention. No one comes through unscathed. And those who appear to do so are usually just better pretenders.
Life is uncertain. Coming to grips with that uncertainty, in the deep places of your heart, is like breaking through a sound barrier-or waking up after a long, long nap. It's like a conversation I had with a woman trying to decide whether to marry a man she'd waited years to meet.
Her story was this. Her clearest memories of childhood were the hours she spent by the bed of her father as he died a slow, sad death from Lou Gehrig's disease. In her little-girl mind, she thought that with her presence and her help, he would get better. At least she could bring him a few moments of joy. And so she sat there dutifully-hour after hour, month after month until he died.
She had grown into a compassionate woman in her thirties, with a depth and gentleness that made her a superb nurse. And finally-finally-she'd met a man who felt worth the wait. She was all set to marry him. Only, in a particular twist of irony, this man was battling an illness as well. It wasn't life threatening, but it was chronic. And it was way too close to home for her.
Her heart wanted to move forward in the relationship, but her head searched for some assurance that she would not be sitting by another man's bedside down the road. "I want to know that I won't repeat that earlier pain," she admitted, understandably.
Excerpted from BETTER THAN MY DREAMS by PAULA RINEHART Copyright © 2007 by Paula Rinehart. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Paula Rinehart is the author of Strong Women, Soft Hearts; Better Than My Dreams; and What's He Really Thinking? As a professional Christian counselor, she divides her time between counseling, writing and speaking to women's groups nationally and internationally. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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