I’ve shared this story with but a few people, and in a moment of bravery published it in a now defunct digital magazine a few years back. The story stays tucked away in my heart most days. That is, until the ache appears.
It most always comes upon awakening. The ache. The chest caving in, find it hard to breathe ache found in the ligaments of life between the “I must do something” and the “I’m helpless to do anything.” It’s such a familiar pain now. I used to fight against it but I am learning to press into it more—as if by pressing, something new will be seen that wasn’t there before.
The ache is always sparked by a dream. I remember the days when dreams would replay the day or be frivolous and fun and full of carnival colors. Those days ended long ago. Now, with rare exception, only two storylines awaken me.
I have only had a precious few Jesus dreams. When I was four, He grabbed my hand in the dark and pulled me out of bed, literally saving my life as someone attempted to break into my bedroom window. When I was 21, without a word, He walked me onto a stage to tell my story to thousands. I even remember the detail of the suit I was wearing, and that I sat on the edge of a low table rather than stand so I could be more intimate with the audience.
He dressed as a doctor in a dream I had the week before unanticipated staff reductions at a global nonprofit meant my job would simply disappear. In that dream, He likened what was to happen to pregnancy—there would be the pain of the moment but such incredible joy and life to follow. He said, “You know what to do. Embrace it.” Days later, while packing up my things, I would realize that His clinic was my office, down to the placement of the window and the nails on the wall where pictures had been. In a more recent dream, He stood in front of me in a hallway, clothed in blue jeans and white t-shirt and work boots. His calloused hands cupped my face as He kissed my forehead and said, “Let’s do this. I believe in you, girl. Swing for the fences.” The hallway became light. Pure light. And I felt alive.
The rescue dreams happen far more often. And there is never resolution, never a tidy ending or heroic moment. Instead, I am in the midst of the story, dressed for battle in the thick of the conflict, in the center of the moment, running or fighting or hiding the innocent as the darkness moves through streets and hallways like fog. Only one rescue dream has tiptoed next to a moment of quiet resolution. My grandson and I were stooped low, fully immersed in a simple game of jacks. He was counting as we bounced the ball over and over again, and I was singing an old song I remembered from my childhood. The land all around us was laid waste, but our feet were planted on lush soil. The dream prior to that was a more common theme. The littlest ones were safe from the spectre this time. I taught young men how to breathe ever-so-lightly in their chest so the tarps hiding them in a boiler room wouldn’t move. And I dressed women—the dream’s true targets—in black so they would become like shadows as we moved in the alleyways.
In the dreams, there is never running away. There is always a place—the safe place—we are headed.
I am always still there, bouncing the ball or moving against the bricks or dressing the women, when the morning comes. Wanting just once for the safe place to appear. Wanting just once to not wake up in the battle.
But the battle never ends.
And I open my eyes to the ache of knowing the battle is real. It’s alive in the waking hours. The need for ransom and rescue is so very real. Anyone who sees this world as anything but shattered and humans as anything but dungeons in desperate need of light and air is fooling themselves. The headlines confirm it daily. Wars rage in faraway lands and in suburban neighborhoods, and demons dance dance on the graves of the most unlikely of victims. Drops of blood fall like rain and evil shakes its gnarled fist and we care only when we are inconvenienced. Hell laughs and enlarges his mouth and swallows up the innocent and wicked alike. And all creation groans to be saved from the pain.
Yet, there He is. He stands in a white t-shirt, blue jeans, and work boots—the pierced One who with His own hands ripped the veils of religion, power, politics, gender, isolation, race, illness, heritage, poverty. Jesus, now holding those shreds out as His own offering. Saying, “swing for the fences—I believe in you.”
I’ve not known what to do with that in the midst of the brokenness. I awkwardly paint with words and grab the hands of those within reach. And I point to the destination, because yes, there is indeed a safe place. He allows that hope to shine. But that ache—I don’t know if it will ever go away, because that safe place has always felt distant for those who are bleeding, and our hands grow weary of the holding, holding, holding.
But still, rescue. We are called to rescue.
In the dreams, I’ve never caught a glimpse of the safe place, though its presence has been palpable. But Jesus stepped into a rescue dream for the first time, as I slowly walked down the hallway of my childhood home. So much was familiar in the dream—the fragrances coming from the kitchen, the bathroom where I would turn the music up loudly to drown out the sounds of my parents fighting, the guest bedroom where a family member first abused me, the master bedroom that always smelled of my dad’s stale alcohol and cigarettes. “Keep walking,” the voice beside me said. “There’s something for you to see.” I thought it was my mom walking with me to the door at the end of the hallway. “Open it,” the voice said. “I’ve done some remodeling, to prepare this place for others.”
Light poured out as the door was opened. It was my old bedroom. And yet it was new.
The large window that terrified me at night because of what lurked outside was no longer there. Instead, there was an alcove with a large bed adorned in white. Pictures on the wall told of better stories, and there was air for filling lungs.
“All things new,” the voice said. “This is safe.” I glanced up to the one speaking to me. I caught a glimpse of His eyes.
And then, I awoke to the familiar ache. And for the first time, hope.
Oh, to have another Jesus dream. He speaks through sunrises to Sherpas. He whispers in the dead of night to the dreamers who hunger for truth. He writes words in the sky to change the hearts of those who have never heard His name. He could craft a dream with all the answers and share it with all who question. And yet, He meets me in a hallway and tells me to swing for the fences. He leads me out before the crowds. He tells me there will be great joy. He walks me to the past to reveal future days.
He can show up in dreams, but He chooses far more often to show up in feeble flesh and bone.
My feeble flesh and bone.
Our feeble flesh and bone.
Jesus tells us that it is us He makes the safe place for someone’s rescue. It is in our story and His redemption that new stories will be written.
And He causes us to ache, to dream the dreams of rescue, to catch a glimpse of the restoration to come. And then to awaken.
Tell me about the dreams you’ve had which have caused you to ache or given strength to your steps…