I still remember the moment I decided to be a drummer.
As a young boy I had experimented with the piano and found it too rigid and rules based for my personality. And while I loved the guitar, everyone and their dog seemed to be a guitar player, and in an exercise of self awareness (or shameless self-concern) I have never been very good at standing out in a crowd. The drums seemed the perfect compliment to my introverted tendencies. It gave me opportunity to play (drummers still seem far and few between), and it gave me a voice that I felt I could actually hear above the noise of my own inadequacy.
Even though I was largely untrained and technically ignorant, the first time I played in public- for Grade 10 chapel, I was also awakened to this idea that I finally had a voice that others could hear and understand as well, and music to a large degree became my means of building meaningful relationships during those later adolescent and young adult years. .
And A Dream Is Formed…
Thus formed the seeds of a (late) childhood dream, a dream that solidified itself the day I walked through the doors of a Delirious concert (and yes, I know that dates me) and happened upon this small, unassuming outfit that went by the name of Switchfoot performing as the opening act. It was at that moment I knew, this is what I wanted to be doing. This is what I needed to be doing. And given all roads at the time seemed to go through Nashville, the once epicentre of the Christian industry and the very image at the time of “making it” and living the dream, I became equally determined to see that city one day.
And I nearly did.
After experimenting with a number of different groups over the years and failing at finding anything that would stick, I remember one day waking up and telling myself, this is it. I have one more go at it to try and make this happen. The older I was getting the harder it seemed to be to keep pressing the reset button.
So I wrote a plan out on a piece of paper, joined forces with a good friend whom had stuck with me through the years, and looking to make something happen went to work putting the plan into action. We brought in a front person, wrote a number of songs, cut a demo and started playing shows. And people responded, eventually even catching the eye of of a booking agent.
But it was at that point I realized something had changed for me. The glimpses I was getting of what this life would eventually be, for as exciting as it was in the moment (there is nothing like that first time playing on a big stage in font of thousands of people) wasn’t adding up to my expectations. Further and more importantly, here I was finally on the cusp of living my dream and the only thing I could think about was a group of students from my Church that my music was taking me away from. I was missing graduations, important moments, and at the time an entire year of investment at crucial times in some of their lives.
So I stepped away from the band. The same band I had put so much work in to foster and create. I stepped away from my dream. And, as it just so happens, I stepped away right before the band relocated to guess where?
The band would go on to sign to a label, go on tours and sell (and make) a number of albums. Me? I went back to school to become a Youth Pastor.
Where one dream fails a new one takes shape. And for as hard as it was to come to terms with leaving music behind, I was (eventually) equally excited for this new direction in my life.
Fast forward a number of years…
After graduating and serving for a number of years at a few different Churches, I found myself stepping out of Youth Ministry after an extremely brief but incredibly tough experience that nearly destroyed me (and I say that in seriousness). And to this day, which was around five years ago today, seeing my former band or other equally successful musician friends still living that dream reminds me of those failed dreams. And while I did eventually find another Church to call home I haven’t been able to bring myself to pursue music or Youth Pastor since that day.
Which is a long road to take to get to this point, but when the need and opportunity presented itself recently to drive a small group of students down to the Nashville area for a North American, Covenant Denomination wide youth conference, something interesting sparked in my spirit. I noticed the symbolic intersection of those two failed dreams coming together. Here I was, a stand in leader driving a group of students to Nashville, the place I had always dreamed of “making it” to as a musician.
Making Sense of Our Dreams
Dreams are funny things. They develop out of our expectations. They arise from our relationship with others. They are shaped by things that inspire us. They feed off the thrill of the unknown, the idea of discovering and accomplishing something new.
And from what I have learned in my years on this earth, they almost always tend to relate to two main things- the question of who we are and the question of how “we” can impact the lives of others.
For these students heading down to Nashville this trip was something they had been anticipating for a long time. Some of them had never been over the border before. For others they had never explored that part of the Country before. For most, if not all, a conference of five thousand plus students all worshipping in the same place carried an air of mysticism and excitement that they could only imagine.
For myself, living on the other side of two failed dreams, what this trip revealed for me was that my experiences had turned me into something of a cynic. Having the privilege of watching these students anticipate the conference and explore these new places, I was brought back to my own childhood spirit of expectation, expectations that were once full of the same hope, anticipation, wonder and appreciation of the unknown that I was seeing in them, all the stuff that cynicism tends to steal away as we get older.
I was also reminded that these expectations do come with a necessary degree of healthy fear and risk. God knows that for as much as he tried to hide it, our own son (who accompanied us on this trip) approached this conference with a sense of fear and trembling. It also ended up being a struggle for him after being sidelined for a good portion of the experience by a bad case of “swimmers ear”. It was a reminder that there is anxiousness and uncertainty is a natural part of what accompanies all of us as we step out into the thrill of the unknown, and also the risk that sometimes our experiences don’t necessarily match our expectation. And yet the reason we step out and embrace these sort of experiences and dreams with hope and expectation is because it is something we believe will and can be transformative and life changing.
Which is simply to say, dreams are made of both the highs and the lows. Dreams are made of both excitement and fear. And what I realized is that rather than make me cynical, this truth should give me reason to be grateful. Because if there is one constant in the high’s and low’s it is this- stepping out into our dreams helps build a foundation. It gives us a place to start from and a means of moving forward. It teaches us something important about the present moment while offering us something to invest in for whatever our future dreams might become. It shapes our voice and give us a way to speak above (and through) the noise of the everyday. It allows us to embrace and not miss the joy and deal with the disappointment.
And above all, the idea of this confluence of both the highs and the lows gives us a way to make sense of and learn from the stuff of the everyday, the battleground of life where we face the highs and the lows on an even more consistent basis.
It is fitting then that a big take away for the kids I talked to on the other side of the conference was the idea of carrying this question with them- what will we do when we head home, back to the everyday? For as much as this experience, this dream, was thrilling for most of these kids, the hardest part was knowing how to carry the lessons of that experience on the other side of the Appalachian mountains. How to carry the lessons of this conference experience into the everyday in a practical way.
Thinking back on my own dreams (and I had a long, looooooong drive for which to ponder through this all multiple times over), I wondered if those dreams were essentially about two things for me. The desire to find my voice and the need to create and play music that might speak to others who felt they didn’t have a voice. And this is the foundation that music and ministry gave me over the years. I can remember playing shows where the front person for our band would have a lineup going out the door waiting to get an autograph. My line would be about 3 people long. And yet I remember feeling in those moments, this is exactly where I want to be, having the opportunity to speak to those who feel they don’t belong or don’t want to be in the larger line. As my dream shifted towards ministry it became about a passion to give voice to those who felt disenfranchised either by the world or by the Church itself. To reach the kids on the fringes who didn’t belong in the “popular” crowd. A large part of went wrong (from outside perception) in my last job was my inability to connect with the popular kids. And yet I remember thinking in the dying moments of my time at that Church, I am exactly where I would want to be, hanging out and talking with the kids on the fringes.
And here’s the biggest thing. The decision that stepping out and living those dreams “in the moment” could make a difference in my life and the life of others only became clear years later. In the moment I expected that it could and it would. On the other side of the mountains I found myself questioning whether it did anything at all. In both cases for me I felt more lost and more useless on the other side than I ever had before. It is only after all these years later that I can say with even a small degree of manufactured confidence, I was exactly where I needed to be and that there was a reward for stepping out and taking that risk.
As I pondered these things, the hope and prayer that I had for these students on what turned out to be a fairly quiet ride home was that the dream of attending this conference, the anticipation of experiencing and seeing something new would give them a foundation, a fresh place to start from and live out their faith in the everyday. That they would not simply feel stuck on the long, endless expanse of the prairies, but know that hope and optimism and expectation for what God can teach them about themselves and their ability to invest into the lives of others is theirs for the taking right where God has them. The present moment, the week of highs that a conference tends to bring, would form a memory of “God with them” that could give them the words they need in the lows they will likely face in the years ahead, and hopefully that can give them the strength to continue to resist the cynicism and embrace the hopefulness long into their maturity.