What about a driving school for Muslim women? My mind buzzes with the possibilities, spinning the details into a feasible plan. I just dropped our Saudi Arabian exchange student off at the international terminal and in the quiet hum of the hour-long interstate ride home, I plan, strategize and dream. Most of the Saudi international student girls I’ve met have a secret desire to learn how to drive since they are not permitted to drive in their country. Likewise, they all complain about the expensive driving schools in the U.S. or about taking private lessons where they have to be alone in a car with a man. We have a spare car, I think. And I could give private lessons and get to know the women at the same time. Perfect …
As I turn the minivan off the interstate at our exit, I hear stirring in the backseat, then arguing, then shrieking. I sigh, smoothing the bunched-up shirt over my ever-growing belly, remembering. Lost in Imaginary Land where I could chase every dream, I had forgotten my reality: two children under four and a baby on the way. I tuck the idea away in the attic of my heart, thinking, If only …
Several months later, scrubbing potatoes by the window at the kitchen sink, I watch my elderly neighbor shuffle around in his backyard, shoveling snow. In summer, he and his wife spend hours each day planting, watering, weeding and coaxing incredible beauty out of dry ground. It has always perplexed me, actually, because I’ve never seen anyone else in their yard. It seems like such a waste to sculpt beauty for no one to see.
Standing at the kitchen counter, I think about the notebook I carry around with me that probably has 200 titles of blog posts and ideas to write about. Some of those words will grow, blossom and die without a single other person ever reading them—just a secret thought between God and me. But some will be cut and handed out for others to enjoy (though, like freshly cut flowers, they will likely be forgotten with the next day’s round of blog posts, email newsletters and online journals).
What a waste, I think. But then I begin to wonder …
Is hidden beauty still beautiful? Or are our dreams, desires and abilities being squandered? Is our work worth it when no one sees it? When no one knows? When we can’t get to our phones fast enough to tweet, Instagram or alert the masses on Facebook that we are living well?
I remember being surprised the first time I ever went scuba diving. Why would God put so many exquisite creatures deep below the surface of the ocean where the majority of people would never even see them? But then I knew. He put them there for His own enjoyment—because hidden treasures bring God delight.
We are God’s secret garden. Some of my dreams may never come to fruition and remain a thought in the dark, a spark of excitement on a ride home from the airport while my babies sleep in the back seat. Many books, articles and blog posts will likely go unwritten. But maybe I am too quick to ignore the value of the mundane tilling, hands-in-warm soil planting, watering, fertilizing, covering with plastic on cold nights, the weeding and pruning involved in cultivating a magnificent garden.
Perhaps the Master Gardener is working on my soul—beautifying it—even as I often run to the fence, shaking it with frustration that I feel trapped here, unable to see other places or show off all my hard work.
Stay. Plant. Grow. Wait, the Gardener whispers.
After getting my daughter up from her nap, I am reminded of another time in my life when Jesus asked me to bury a deep desire.
A tiny nudist at heart, my two-year-old had purposely stripped down to her birthday suit and stood grinning in her crib. Searching for something easy to dress her in, I reached into the back of the drawer and pulled out the turquoise silk qi pao dress I bought when I was living alone in China ten years earlier. Forgetting to give it away as a gift, I had kept it—just in case I were to one day have a daughter.
At 31, I had little confidence that I’d ever get married after committing to live in the middle-of-nowhere China. It was still my silent hope, my secretly whispered prayer. (Perhaps because it felt weak to admit?) That little dress was a symbol of my sacrifice as I made peace with never marrying or having children. Marriage was my Isaac that God seemed to be asking me to lay on the altar.
As I slipped the dress over my daughter’s head, I remembered this buried dream.
“You’re beautiful,” my son told her, tackling her with a hug. Delighted with the attention, she began a spontaneous promenade around the bedroom. Then I thanked God for answering this prayer I had stopped daring to pray when the answer had always been “not now.”
Perhaps it is in hiddenness that I am learning humility. And I’m guessing humility is more pleasing to my Jesus than fame and flashy will ever be.
The paradox of a Jesus-led life paints with the platitudes: He must become greater, we must become less. In our hiddenness, He is found. In dying to ourselves, we truly live. As we open our hands—offering everything—He fills them.
Cleaning the counters after dinner, I remember my brilliant idea last summer and all the other tucked-away dreams. I think of the essays swirling in my head, the 196 books on my list I want to read, the international students I long to host and more of the world I still want to see. Wiping my soapy hands on the dish towel, I scoop up the squishy baby from his bouncy seat and sit on the couch.
My husband glances up at me, smiling as he reads to my sleepy little girl and boy, their tiny faces transfixed by their daddy’s voice.
The Driving School for Muslim Women will have to wait, I think.
For now, at least.
Which of your dreams are currently on hold?