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When Dreams Wake Up Different

When I was a kid, practically every story that danced across the screen hinged on a character who was running down a dream. A big dream. I just ate that stuff up, because I was completely certain that dreams had to be these colossal, magnificent feats worthy of being chased down, maybe even worth dying for. And planted deep in my young heart, I was already tending one of my own.

Not counting a brief third grade fascination with becoming an auto mechanic, all I ever wanted to do “when I grow up” was to write songs and sing them for people, preferably for many people from a very large stage. But I was a derelict dreamer at best, highly undisciplined when it came to lame things like taking lessons and practicing and mapping out exactly how to accomplish such a pie-in-the-sky goal. I guess it just made more teenage sense to kick back with my Metal Edge magazine and wait for Mr. Big to show up in his limo with my six-album deal. The movies made it sound so doable.

But years later, the mirror found me fixed on the back side of thirty with three small children, a husband in the ministry, and a pile of songs (in my head) that had never come to be. The pace and space of life had quietly put my dream to bed, and I could hear it snoring all the way down the hall. Plus, my newly redeemed imagination was desperately longing to create something true and life-giving, but most everything I had known of faith-fueled music sounded a lot like my mom’s LPs of the Statler Brothers. Hard pass. Sleep on, sweet dream o’ mine.

Then the day after my thirty-second birthday, a very insistent friend dragged me to a concert headlined by Third Day and David Crowder in Tyler, Texas. It was a small, dilapidated venue where a ceiling tile fell on the drummer’s head during the last song. I mean really—he came out for the encore wearing a bicycle helmet just in case. Gritty, sort of. I was interested.

The opening act was a band called Hyper Static Union. And, wow. HSU’s front man shredded lead like a beast, all the while belting out stratospheric melodies. I was dumbfounded at what I was hearing because this guy was seriously rocking, all while singing about Jesus. I had no idea that was even a thing one could do. Clearly, I had not done my research.

So, bias dispelled. And like an alarm clock slicing through the silence, I was in. Not sure exactly how, but I wanted in.

I returned home that night chewing on a sweet suspicion that it might be time for the old childhood dream to wake up and play out. I stared sternly at my husband in the dingy yellow glow of the kitchen countertop light and declared, “We are going to make an album!” And, bless him, he did what that sweet man always does when my manic side comes home with a ludicrous idea. He just smiled and asked, “What do you need me to do?”

Now, a seriously rusty mom of three in her thirties has pretty much zero ranking on the new artist marketability scale. I knew that. And with our thread-bare shoestring budget and the little whipper-snappers nipping at my heels all day long, the idea of some full studio production and international world tour was probably (definitely) not on the table. No delusions of grandeur allowed.

But what kept spinning in my head after that show was this: Something had awakened. And I could either continue to do nothing with that passion and let sleeping dreams lie, or I could do whatever little something I could do. Hey, even the “one-talent servant” was expected to somehow invest what the Master had invested in him.

A dream's slumber is needed at times, that it may sabbath, or that it may give birth to different dreams. Jennifer Hildebrand

So that very week, in true rock star fashion, while the children screamed destruction throughout our little house, we untangled crusty cables, restrung dusty guitars, unearthed our 8-track digital recorder that had been gifted to us by my still hopeful in-laws several years prior, and we got down to business. I wrote fresh songs, resurrected and tweaked old songs, and studied up with whatever free online recording tutorials I could find. I also continued to rock babies, read Little Golden Books, cook meals and wipe noses, but then I’d sneak off to our fancy “studio” in our not-even-the-slightest-bit-soundproofed garage every time someone took a fifteen minute nap.

We were all the band we had. We played and sang everything on the record and got really cozy with our cheap, elderly drum machine. I decided that, sure, I could play a little lead guitar (I could not). We mixed like mad men, in real time with sliders and knobs and actual human fingers over and over and over again until it was somewhere in the vicinity of listenable.

It was a crazy few months, and the fury of it all fed my soul like manna. It was a sweet time of growth and naïve discoveries. The dream had slept in a little later than I’d wanted and was sporting a good deal more bedhead than expected, but she was finally up and at ‘em.

Was the album awesome? Meh. It was okay.

Was the production off-the-charts spectacular? Well, of course not.

But it did happen, by golly. God roused a little dream, humbled it, made it less sparkly but more real, and did it all right in the middle of the day-to-day chaos of life. The couple dozen people who heard the album seemed to like it and resonate with the songs, and they let us know that it was worth the effort. They heard God’s goodness somewhere in that messy, simple recording. In the end, it felt like we had built a wonky, hodgepodge cathedral from the ground up with bare hands, and all we could do then was pray for God’s praises to inhabit the humble, unsteady structure. Please be pleased, Lord.

Since then, we’ve undertaken that same adventure two other times. Each time, a few more people were kind enough to lend a hand. Each time, I felt exhausted, exhilarated, completely ill-equipped for the task, and yet those same words kept pushing: I can either do nothing at all, or (wake up, little dream!) I can do the little something I can do. Maybe it’s just one talent, but it’s got to be all in, baby.

That’s every believer’s call to answer. A simple song, a courageous painting, an earnest poem, a cup of water in Jesus’ name. Our Lord himself praised one woman’s quiet, costly offering saying, “She has done what she could.” (Mark 14:8) And it was to be remembered.

Situated firmly in my forties now, I have no idea if I’ll ever get to feel that kind of awakening again. Sometimes chapters close nicely and don’t need to be revisited, and the older I get, the more comfortable I am with that reality. A dream’s slumber is needed at times, that it may sabbath, or that it may give birth to different dreams. It’s a beautiful cycle. Because with each bleary-eyed dream yawning into life, every effort exerted to find beauty in the broken, every attempt to overcome pride and ego and let the Light be all that’s left to shine, we get wrapped again in the reminder that our God is still in the business of bringing new things into being. In his mercy, may he call them good.

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