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Big Dreams & Hard Lessons

by April Steir

A cold, biting wind whipped my black skirt around my legs and tossed my hair into my face. A heavy silence permeated the air. I watched people of all ages gather around me. Streams of people came from every direction, but we all had the same destination and purpose. I was only one face among hundreds that came to honor the life of Jacob Charles Cushman on February 1, 2001, but I was one life that would be forever changed by his death.

With my arm tightly woven through my best friend’s, I watched my brother walk on his crutches behind the rest of the pallbearers. The sight caused my heart to plunge in my chest. This could have been my brother’s funeral. Fresh tears gathered in my eyes. I thanked God again for sparing my brother from this tragic car accident that left two of his close friends dead and another still fighting for his life in critical condition at the hospital.

My eyes searched for Jake’s family. People crowded close around the tent to shield themselves from the piercing wind, and they blocked my gaze. As I looked up at the overcast sky, I could hear Jake’s mom sobbing. All of my struggles surfaced again, and I inwardly cried out to God. It’s so unfair! Jake was so young and had so much potential. Why do You give people hopes and dreams and then rip them away?

I was scared. During the past two years I had been struggling with my own lofty dreams for the future. I had big dreams, and these dreams were precious to me. I didn’t want to fail while trying to achieve them, so I had clutched them tightly in my grasp, too afraid to take the risk and attempt to chase them. Only in the past two weeks had I gained enough courage to finally pursue them, but Jake’s death proved to me that nothing was ever certain in life and no dream was ever assured of coming true.

The pastor began to say a few words, but they scattered with the wind. I huddled next to my best friend to stay warm as I felt emotional numbness overtake my body. When the service ended, I walked in a daze to the car and mechanically climbed inside. I stared with bleak eyes at the mass of people scattering in dozens of directions. The ride back to church was silent.

I buried my feelings during the potluck at church after the funeral service and felt relieved when we finally left for home. Once at home, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was incredibly tired, and all I wanted to do was escape reality. I changed my clothes and fell into my bed. Tears kept me company until exhaustion claimed me.

I woke up slowly. My body felt drugged, and my mind was cloudy. Memories quickly pounced on me, and grief wasn’t far behind. The familiar heaviness settled back on my chest, and I pushed back the covers. Rubbing a hand over my face, I walked into our living room. Mom sat passively watching TV and informed me that Christopher was at the Cushman’s house. Dad had gone to bed, and she was joining him shortly. It was early, but none of us felt like staying in the world of the awake.

I walked back to my room. I couldn’t go to bed; I had just gotten up from a nap. I’d never sleep through the whole night. I could read. I pushed that thought aside. I wasn’t interested, and I knew my mind wouldn’t stay focused. Listen to music then. I stuck a CD in my player. Sitting on my bed, I let my mind wade through the events of the day and finally faced everything.

Jake was dead. I’d never see him again, laugh at his jokes again, or watch him play his guitar again. At 20 years of age, all of his dreams and hopes were wrenched away from him. “Why, God?” I whispered to the ceiling. “Why did you have to take him?”

Words from the funeral flooded back to me... my brother’s speech about how Jake centered his life around what God wanted him to do... another girl saying it was Jake’s greatest dream to see the face of God... someone mentioning that Jake’s goal in life was to change the world’s faulty philosophy.

Then it hit me. God was Jake’s dream. Jesus was his goal. He lived his life completely for God, and now he was fully in God’s presence. Understanding flooded my whole being. All of my own hopes and dreams for the future raced through my mind, and for the first time in my life I knew I had to let them go. I knew I couldn’t hang on to them and be completely surrendered to Christ at the same time. A decision faced me, and that day I chose to make God my dream. I laid all of my own hopes and desires at the foot of my Creator and said, “Take me, Jesus. All of me.”

I realized in that instant that to be a Christian did not mean merely to pay your dues to God through Christian service and then wait for God’s approval in return. It didn’t mean designing my own career and future and then asking for the Lord’s blessing on what I decided. When Christ said to take my cross and follow Him, He meant it. Following Jesus demanded everything from me—my rights, my dreams, my plans for the future, my very life. Only then would I know true happiness and experience the fullness of Christ.

Jake had understood that. That was his perspective on life, and it took his death to change mine. Jake dreamed of changing the world’s philosophy and the way we think. He changed my philosophy on life that day. I still have my dreams, but now I am not afraid to chase them. Now I am not as scared to see them possibly fail because God has become my ultimate dream. And He is one dream that I know will never fail. As long as I am where He wants me to be and doing what He wants me to do, then my dream will come true.

Life is full of lessons, and some can be very painful. Jake’s death was hard, but it wasn’t without its blessings. I can look back on his death now and smile. Not just because of what it taught me, but because I know that Jake’s dreams did come true after all.