Our lives aren’t what we expected them to look like 6 months ago.
But we’re settled. We have 2 incomes, and a fully furnished apartment. We buy groceries and have to avoid patches of ice. I work in sales, something I’ve never dreamed of, and Sheri is cutting hair in a salon, just like she’s done for years. We wear coats and close-toed shoes, and we have no current affiliation with any Christian organization other than the International church we checked out last Sunday.
Even the location was entirely off our current radar. Which almost makes me forget that I’ve always dreamed of coming here.
Mongolia was something of a travel Timbuktu for me in college. And I know I’m not alone in this. For as many people who tell us “Mongolia, how random,” there’s just as many that say “Mongolia is at the top of my list.” And in the most amazing way, we are living that blessing of proffered dream gratification, in a way I had never imagined and almost entirely forgotten about.
To me, Mongolia was something of an extreme, which is to say it was the most appealing. As the least densely populated country on the planet, it was an unbelievable expanse of wide-open wilderness on an unimaginably large scale, treeless rolling hills for thousands of miles making a carpet of green, the Gobi Desert in the south, host to wild winter camels that sprint for days through the wind-blown snow dusted dunes, the Altai mountains to the west where native Kazakhs still hunt with giant golden eagles for ammunition, thousands of years of bloody conquest and almost no architectural history to show for it, windswept, sun-kissed faces of age-old nomads, impossibly vast starry night skies, wild horses and endless horizons, and houses that pick up and move like they were being blown by the wind, the country’s one real city in constant ebb and flow from the coming and going districts of nomadic herders. Mongolia, to me, was the world at its most fantastic, at its most wild, at its most scintillatingly alluring.
I can recall the taste of those dreams so vividly, how much I longed to be here. And to actually be here, and more than that to be surprised to be here – it’s almost too terrific to take in.
This place is real, and in every way it lives up to those dreams I used to have. We’re here, with the dust in our lungs and the sky in our eyes, brushing shoulders with people whose ancestors grew up with nothing but an interminable expanse of land and an age-old culture of honor.
And in all the excitement of us being here, it still remains unfathomable to me – how did I forget about this? How did I lose sight of those dreams?
It’s simple, really. My dreams were replaced by bigger and better dreams – someone else’s dreams.
And you know what? I’m beginning to see how much of a good thing that is!
I’m all for dreamers and I’m all for dreams. And I’ve always been one to have a lot of them. I get consumed with passion for those dreams, so much so that I’m unable to see anything else. I wouldn’t even be able to appreciate this place with the fullness that I do, if I hadn’t used to dream about it.
But there’s so much meaning to the fulfillment of this dream that came from its surrender. Let me explain.
It was a wise man who told me that he doesn’t have any dreams any more. HE was the dream, and God was the dreamer. At the time, I thought that was a stupid thing to say. Now though…
The primary focus of my dreams had always been me – even my Christian dreams, it was always about my doing, my seeing, my changing. But if there’s anything my faith has made me disillusioned with, it’s myself, and my abilities. Even to the most exacting degree, my pride and self-centeredness had affected my highest aspirations and desires. This included the people I wanted to serve, the perspective I hoped to gain, the world I longed to see, and the family I dared hope to have.
It was only in the surrender of these dreams that they could be cured of their self-focus.
Like for real, no-manipulation giving up and moving on. And more often than not, the Lord had a way of returning these surrendered dreams to me. Like the time I resigned myself to singleness and celibacy over having a family, and the Lord brought me a wife. Like the time I realized the importance of jobs and investing in places over nomadic wandering, and the Lord blew us around Southeast Asia for months. Like the time we had given up on seeing everything, or even anything, and the Lord brought us here. To Mongolia; my old dream.
It’s a funny thing, coming face to face with these past notions of adventure, these past hopes and wild fantasies. It’s like coming home from college and being a stranger in your old room. Like reading a note you wrote years ago, trying to process how those thoughts were yours.
My dreams have been like that. I come face to face with old dreams – having a wife, seeing Mongolia – dreams that at the time seemed so important and impossibly out of reach – and now I know the truth, that had I held on to them with that old, selfishly stubborn naïve grip, their realization would have been nothing but a shallow breath, a thin cover on a cold night.
Fulfillment only means one thing to me now – and that meaning is inseparable from the work and person and heart of Jesus. It’s only through Him that my dreams and their fulfillment have come to mean what they could. It’s only through Him that my wife doesn’t become a self-indulgence, a trophy, an ego-boost. It’s only through Him that Mongolia didn’t just become yet another place I’ve seen. And it’s only through surrender that we can approach that throne, that throne that transforms our selfish hearts into His perfect dream.
It’s with this renewed palate that the air comes in off the steppe and tastes so sweet, that the sky looks so large, the horizon so alluring. It’s with this transformed perspective that Mongolia becomes a fulfillment that keeps me heart fluttering expectantly, not an achievement withering at the end of a long list. It’s with this surrendered ambition that my future is totally open, at the mercy and discretion of a Dreamer’s whim, whose dreams are perfect, whose desires are life and love, whose hope is reconciliation and peace and eternal glory, and in whose ways my soul finds nothing but delight and contentment and freedom.
I can trust that dream. I can believe that dream.
I will gladly live that dream.