When I was a child, I had a recurring dream. I am sitting in the front seat of the Beverly Hillbillies pickup truck, looking out at the open sky, the empty road ahead. We are bouncing along the road, shoulders loose with the bumps in the road. The road is near where I grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It is flat, and the landscape to the right is a wide cornfield. In this dream it’s sunny and I feel comfortable, normal, and content. For years I’ve wondered about it—why this dream? I didn’t watch the Beverly Hillbillies habiltually. No matter, I have probably dreamed that same dream, just a small snippet of a scene, at least two hundred times. It started when I was five or six. I don’t dream it anymore though, as far as I know. I think the last time I was about eighteen. But waking up from that dream always left me feeling the same way: OK. Opening my eyes after that trip down the skinny road, I was OK.
I have a new recurring dream. It isn’t actually the same scene over and over, but it has this same element: I am trying to run, but I can’t make my legs move. I’m telling myself, RUN, but I can’t pick up my damn feet! Sometimes they only move very slowly, a plod. Sometimes it’s as if they’re cemented to the ground. Last time I dreamed this I was trying to catch a flight, out on the tarmac, the plane only fifty yards away. Telling myself to Run! I can surely catch it, but then my feet aren’t connected to the firing synapses in my brain. My body disobeys. I have no control, and I think, I might as well be a corpse.
I’ve always been a vivid dreamer, and I remember dreams. The next day, days later, I can recall details about where I was, who was alongside me, what we said, what the problem was. I can remember some dreams from before my brother was born, and he is twenty-three. I like to think it’s one of the features God gave my brain to help me as a writer. The book I’m about to publish came to me in a dream at the end of my senior year of college. I’ve had so many dreams that feel like gifts—alternate realities, short films in sleep.
But the dream where I can’t run is disturbing. I wake up from nights including that dream feeling terrified, full of anxiety, like my heart has been pumping extra hard. I wiggle my toes to be sure my legs work. I fade back into my room, look at the ceiling. I’m where I should be.
I begin to unfold my mind like the petals of a flower. Real life floods into my conscious like light, I tick through all the things I was mentally juggling before I fell asleep, and the dream makes perfect sense. The list is overwhelming. Too often I find that when I allow myself to remember and acknowledge all factors, the anxiety overwhelms me! When did I become this person? It’s not every morning, but it’s often enough I can recognize where my heart has become heavier over time.
We are selling the house. The sign in the yard is cute, and bittersweet, but the reality is a high level tension dully vibrating at all times. Keep it clean – will it sell? – where will we go? – do we have time – do we stay here? – hurry! someone is coming in five minutes, get out! In the moments at night, when I sit in my bed and look at the three photos hanging above my dresser, I also feel sadness! This is our home! This is where we became a family. This is where we have gone through all the great joys and griefs of our life together. I lovingly picked the paint colors, the mirror above the mantle; sewed the curtains above the window over my desk.
We are having another baby. How will I work? – where will I find the time? – what does one do with a girl? – how can I endure feeling sick for 17 more weeks? – back to sleepless nights – what about our friends who want babies?
I am publishing the book, FINALLY. JOY! Then what will I write next? – what if the muse leaves me and I have nothing? – how will I sell it? – am I writing the right things? – will this take me to new places? – will I be good enough?
Mark’s career. PA School isn’t happening, what’s next? – what will give him joy? – will we need to move? – should we be buying a new house if we’re open to moving? – most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them, said Thoreau. – is that true? – God, don’t let that be so!
When can we go on a vacation? – do we spend too much? – how can we serve our community? – how can we make a difference in the world? – are we working excellently? – is our marriage doing ok? – I haven’t cooked dinner for my family in 10 days. – is the 11th day the day I need to go to the store and cook?
And that’s just my universe. What about my family and friends who are hurting? Who have needs? Unmet desires? It feels like too much.
In the mornings, laying in bed, this is the waking manifestation of trying to run when my feet won’t lift.
So here’s what I’ve been doing.
I get up, place my heavy feet on the cold, hardwood floor. I put a sweatshirt on, leave my sleeping husband in bed, and walk to the kitchen. Turn on the kettle. Make a single coffee. Sit on the paisley chair in my writing nook – Mark’s gift to me – and pull my feet up under me, lay the cable knit blanket over my lap. I sit and I stare out the window at the large trees, now vibrantly green, in the yard beyond ours. The window is high, so it feels like being in a treehouse. Sometimes I sit there for a long time, just staring. Breathing myself down from the height at which I woke.
Then I open my journal, or my Bible, or this book of sermons I’m reading, and slowly let truth wash over me. I pray.
A teacher said, “We return to the Bible to remember who we are, and who God is.” In the simple discipline of returning and remembering, I find peace. It’s not that simple.
But it is, also, that simple.
This morning, I read this:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
In the sermon based on this passage, Beuchner says God prepares the table in the presence of our enemies because it’s “the only option.” We are always, forever surrounded by our enemies. Specifically, the enemies from within – our anxiety, fear, doubt, sadness, anger, guilt, disquiet, unrest. But He prepares the feast of peace, forgiveness, joy, surety and grace for us there, anyway.
This morning it is sunny and cool. The sky is blue, the clouds are thin like stretched cotton. I am by myself in a café with a pain au chocolat and a latté. It feels like the same kind of morning as when I was bouncing along the road beside the cornfield in the Beverly Hillbillies pickup truck.