Thursday, October 4, 2012

Is Your Dream Big Enough?

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. -- Proverbs 4:23

Does your dream scare you? If it doesn't, maybe it's not big enough.

I remember the moment my dream of being a novelist took wings.

Sure, I'd always believed God was behind my desire to write, and I know nothing is too difficult for Him to achieve. But there's a difference between believing something in your mind and in your heart.

My entire life, I've loved books and stories. A part of me always wanted to see my name on a book jacket. But who actually believes that will happen to them? I think if we're not careful, we can get weighed down by realities, and we stop seeing the goal of the dream God has purposely laid on our hearts. We forget He is the one behind our desires, and we start trying to get there on our own--meanwhile, always preparing ourselves for the possibility we might fail. But the cool thing about God's purposes is they never fail. If God has called you to something, He has a reason, and He is going to see you through.

At the 2011 ACFW Conference, I met one of my heroes: Allen Arnold, the then-VP of Thomas Nelson. I wasn't even planning to talk to him that year. I didn't think I was ready. But he graciously asked me about my book, and throughout that conference, affirmed my dream. I remember vividly going back to my room at one point and just crying because I was so overwhelmed by what God was doing. So overwhelmed that God would use a person I had so much respect for to encourage me.

There are dream speakers in this world, and there are dream killers. I want to talk first about dream killers because I think many of these are things we can silence on our own accord.

Dream Killers

  • Distractions
Imagine you're walking on a nature trail to this beautiful waterfall. You've heard all this hype about how incredible it is, how it's worth the journey, but the trail is tough. You start getting bitten by mosquitoes and thinking about West Nile Virus. You start wishing you would've worn your old tennis shoes instead of your new Coach flip flops. Bees are buzzing around everywhere, and you find yourself darting away from them (--I'm not the only one who does this, am I?--).

Before you know it, you begin to wonder if you should just turn around.

If we aren't careful, we become distracted from our calling. I believe this is one of the most effective methods the enemy has for keeping us from God's plans: he convinces us to put our own armor down.

If you're too busy looking at the ground, you're going to start feeling weighed down, and you aren't going to be able to see the staircase God is building on a higher level in your life. I actually wrote a blog about this yesterday if this is a concept that speaks to you and you want to read more. Bottom line is, we are all prone to getting distracted by things big and small, positive and negative, that call attention away from where we should be spending our time, energy, and heart.
  • Assumptions
When it really comes down to it, what do you believe about God? What do you believe about yourself? If you don't really believe you can be a published novelist, why not? Does a part of you fear you've heard God wrong, that He's playing a trick on you? That maybe, worse yet, you've been forgotten by God? Let's be honest. We all feel like this from time to time. I think it's so important to be constantly aware of the assumptions that lurk behind our image of God and ourselves because they shape the attitudes of our hearts. If you doubt your ability to fulfill your calling, you are officially a writer. But we don't have to stay in that place. Lord, we ask you for faith to fulfill the wonderful purposes You have set forth in our lives, to glimpse the reality of the dreams You have set in our hearts.
  • Anxiety/Disbelief
How many times have you looked at a draft of your novel and thought, "This is really terrible. What am I thinking? I could never be an author. No one would want to read this stuff"? How many times have you read feedback from others, maybe even contest judges or people you respect, and come away feeling like a failure? After a while, we pick up messages of insufficiency, one by one like little rocks, until our calling becomes a backpack that's too heavy to carry on our own. God wants to empty that out. He said His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. Criticism is necessary and often hard, but the important thing is that we do not carry that disbelief with us. For when we allow it entrance through the doors of our heart, we have welcomed company that seeks to hunt down and kill our dreams.

Thankfully, we have a choice. We can tire of fighting these dream killers and give in to them, or we can instead press on and give ear to dream speakers instead.

Dream Speakers
  • Community

This is where my illustration about Allen comes in. When he spoke to my heart for writing, he had no idea he was also affirming my calling and helping me find the courage to speak with my now-agent. He didn't know how I would replay his words in my mind throughout the next year every time I grew frustrated with my WIP. My critique partner, my family, and the Alley Cats have also done this time and again in my life. I can't emphasize enough the power of community. If you're not plugged in with a group of writers and mentors, you need to find one. You need to find people who believe in you and in your desire to write, who will help hold you up when you are falling and who will knock you down if need be if you're ever flying a little too high. We just can't do it alone.

  • God's Word
I know, I know. You've heard this a million times. I sound like a 7th grade Sunday School teacher. But I am telling you, if you give God a chance, He will speak to you right where you are. We just have to let Him. If we're not reading the Bible and spending time in prayer, why do we expect Him to speak to us? And yet we all are guilty of this, aren't we?

When I came home from the ACFW Conference this year, reality started setting in, and the confidence I'd felt in Dallas began giving way to nervousness. Then I read this verse on BibleGateway's verse of the day e-mail:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. -- Hebrews 10:35-36

Wow. What an incredible message from the heart of God.
  • Our Thoughts
I think that as Christians, we often neglect our thought life. We associate meditation and positive thinking with quacky theology. And please don't misunderstand. I'm not suggesting you do a few deep breathing exercises and declare yourself the god of the universe. But... so often we underestimate the power of what happens in our minds. The Bible says we have the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ. How often do we take God up one? If we spent more time rehearsing the promises of God in our thoughts rather than rehearsing our failures over and over again, what sort of closed doors would be opened to us?

I want to encourage you to be a dream speaker in the lives of those around you, and to be a good steward and keeper of the dream God has trusted to your heart. It's so easy to allow discouragement to burden us, and to then become a burden to others. Dream killers are contagious. Run from them. Choose to instead affirm your calling.

How do you handle the distractions and discouragement that come your way in life? Do you have strategies for reviving those dreams that seem to have fallen to the wayside? How do you protect your heart?


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Angie Dicken said...

Aw, Ashley, you always inspire! Thanks for this post. I started getting bogged down by writing this proposal, but I need to remember to look up, and not let "stuff" get in the way. Thank you!!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Wow!!! Once again I've been incredibly challenged by an Alleycat post. You girls are helping me so much through your wise words. Especially loved the thought about spending more time rehearsing the promises of God instead of our failures. That really spoke to me. Thanks, Ashley.

Krista Phillips said...


What Ashley said!!!!

I'm a huge huge huge huge believer in dreaming big and not limiting God by our own small view of what is possible and impossible.

it's one of the reasons I called my blog, "One Woman's Dream." because even though I'm just one woman dreaming, there is POWER in our God if we trust Him enough to dream big dreams. Doesn't mean all our dreams will come "true" but... dreaming big allows God to work big things through us, opens us up if you will.

Yeah, great great post!!!

Joanne Sher said...

Oh, Ashley, I love and needed this. Thank you.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Wow, Ashley. I read your first line about Does your dream scare you? How did you get in my head?? :) I'm TERRIFIED right now when I stop to think about it so much that I've many times seriously thought about just abandoning an opportunity because I feel I can't handle it. I SO needed this encouragement! Thank you!

Keli Gwyn said...

Following the dream to be a writer can be kinda scary at times. There is nothing like the support and encouragement of one's writing buddies. I've been blessed with many wonderful writer friends, and I'm sooo grateful for each and every one.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Ashley Clark, how DO you do it? Always speaking right to me. I just love you to pieces. You've got a gift, girl, and THANK YOU for using it.

Doubt plagues me--doubt that I won't measure up, that I'll disappoint, that I will never succeed. But they are lies from Satan. When I start to doubt, I run to my husband and friends to dispel the doubts and remind me that God's got this.

Ashley Clark said...

Angie, I am so glad you felt encouraged by it! You are an incredible person and incredible writer, and I can't wait to see what God has in store for your stories!

Karen, your comment gave me chill bumps! I think that's something we all struggle with. I know I do! Thanks for sharing.

Ashley Clark said...

Loved your comment, Krista! Especially this: "not limiting God by our own small view of what is possible and impossible." You are an encouragement and inspiration to all of us!

Thank you for coming by today, Joanne!

Ashley Clark said...

Aw, Julia! I think fear is a good thing sometimes, if it's a fear of the unknown and not anxiety-based, because that means God is pushing us beyond our comfort zone. And that's how we really grow, you know? You are a great writer, and God has you in this place for a reason. Be encouraged!

Ashley Clark said...

Kelli, I know how you feel! So glad you are a part of the Alley Cat and the ACFW communities! :)

Linds,you are so right in what you said! I think we all struggle with doubt, but the important thing is to erase thoughts doubts and thoughts in our minds by positive affirmation. The verse comes to mind that "God has not given us a spirit of fear." Isn't that an awesome passage? Love you, girl! You are an incredible writer, and I know are going to go far!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Dream speakers! I love it! What a wonderful concept.

That's what I love to do for other writers is give them encouragement and help them achieve their dreams. Words mean a lot. They can make or break your spirit.

I will be a Dream Speaker!

Thanks for this, Ashley!


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Sue, that's awesome. Love your heart. :)

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Sue! I know you're making such a difference for those writers!

Jeanne T said...

Ashley, it's been one of those crazy-busy days. With kids home for fall break, chaos usually ensues. :) But, I'm finally getting to your blog, and I love your post. You have such a way of speaking words of life and exhortation. Thanks for your words today.

My dream is big. And scary. I'm with Julia. Sometimes, I'm overwhelmed with fear, not sure I can really do this. I've been (recently) where Lindsay described too. God often reminds me to keep my thoughts on Him, not on anything else.

Then, I remember God gave me the story, and He'll equip me to write it for His glory.

Kids are pulling on me, so I'm off and running. Again. Thanks for sharing your sweet wisdom today!

Beth K. Vogt said...

I've already told you how much that verse in Hebrews means to me -- and how I'm particularly latching on to the first sentence -- and not throwing away my confidence.
Thank you for such an encouraging -- and practical post.

Ashley Clark said...

Jeanne, I think what's so cool about having a big dream is that when God nudges us toward it, we're forced to rely completely on faith, and then whenever our dream begins to become a reality, we KNOW we are in the center of God's will because we never could've gotten so far on our own. Thank you for sharing your heart!

Beth, first of all, your picture is gorgeous! Isn't it so easy to throw away our confidence? I think sometimes the church conflates confidence in God's plan with pride and then makes us feel guilty if we walk confidently in faith. But confidence in God's purposes and in His working in our lives is healthy and pushes us toward those dreams. I am SO on the same page with you on that one... thus why this idea keeps popping up on all my blogs! Ha! Thanks for stopping by today. Still loving your book, by the way!

Mary Vee Writer said...

How good that I read this post on the day I needed it. I didn't have access to my computer so I was forced to think! I had several hours to drive and sleeping passengers.
During that time, inspired by Cindy's recent comments, I mapped out my next WIP. I felt giddy as the ideas took color.
Thanks for a really great post.