The Hollywood producer didn't believe it was true, and I couldn't seem to change his mind, even though I was about to buy him lunch at my favorite neighborhood restaurant. He couldn't believe that every person has been created with a Big Dream, and that most people, for one reason or another, just aren't pursuing it.

He said only a few people are "born dreamers."

"Just because you happen to be one of them," he said, "you don't really think everyone in this restaurant is one, do you?"

I was losing the debate as we took our seats, and I didn't know what to do. Our conversation had special meaning to me because, although my producer friend didn't know it, I was trying to help him embrace his Big Dream.

I was almost to the point of giving up when an idea came to mind. Why not try to prove it right in front of him?

When our waitress Sonja came to take our order, my heart was pounding. But I took a risk. I asked her, "Are you doing what you've always wished you could be doing?"

She looked at me questioningly. "What do you mean?" she asked.

I said, "Well, maybe you are doing your dream, and that would be terrific. But I wonder, do you have a Big Dream inside of your heart that hasn't come true yet?"

Sonja thought for a moment. Then she said, "My mother is a nurse. My sister is a nurse. And I always dreamed of becoming a nurse."

"Would you have been a good nurse?" I asked.

Sonja became emotional. "I would have been a really good nurse," she said softly.

"Would you like to be a nurse at this very moment?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

So I took another risk. "Do you happen to believe that God wants you to be a nurse?" I asked.

She looked away for a minute, then said, "I think so."

"If God wants you to be a nurse, then there must be a way for you to be one," I said. "What has stopped you?"

Sonja listed the reasons: an education cut short by marriage, then two children, then the demands of raising a family. "Now it's impossible," she said. "It's too late." I heard the sadness in her voice.

"What would have to happen for you to become a nurse?" I asked.

"We don't have enough money," she said. "I can't afford a babysitter, so I can't go to school."

"So if you had a babysitter, you would go to school?" I asked.

"Yes," she said without hesitation.

I glanced at my producer friend to make sure he was taking this all in. Then I took another risk. "Sonja, I believe there's somebody in your life who cares about you and would babysit your children for free. Who is that person?"

Sonja thought for a moment, then her face lit up. "It's my mother!" she exclaimed. "She just retired two months ago! She loves her grandchildren. And she's always wanted me to have my dream. She'd babysit my kids for free if I just asked her!"

While she spoke, her eyes brimmed with tears. Mine did, too. Anytime I see someone else's dream surfacing, I'm deeply touched, because I know how sad it is not to be able to live your dream.

Without even taking our order, Sonja slid in next to a friend at another table to announce that she was going back to school. "I'm going to be nurse!" she said with tears of joy.

My friend sat across from me, shaking his head. "If I didn't see it with my own eyes," he said, "I wouldn't have believed it. Maybe you're right. Maybe everybody does have a Big Dream."

With whom do you identify in that story? The producer? He thought people with Big Dreams are few and far between. The waitress? She always knew she had a Dream but never felt it was possible.

Every person I meet who is not actively pursuing a Big Dream can identify with one or the other. But the truth is, even those who think Dreams only happen to someone else carry a Dream hidden deep in their heart, just hoping it can come true. And when someone puts a finger on that hidden Dream, the person almost always becomes emotional.

You have a Big Dream, too. God has put a driving passion in you to do something special. Why wouldn't He? You are created in His image-the only person exactly like you in the universe. No one else can do your dream.

One day when I was teaching this point to very poor villagers, one of the men suddenly clapped his hands and exclaimed, "That's wonderful news! That means I can stop wishing I were someone else!"

The journey toward your Big Dream changes you. In fact, the journey itself is what prepares you to succeed at what you were born to do.

And until you decide to pursue your Dream, you are never going to love your life the way you were meant to.

Yet millions of people never take the first step.

It's so easy to get caught up in the demands of life. And we all take refuge at times in routines and recliners and "usual" anything! But if we're just marking time-instead of making a life-we have put our Big Dream on hold. Years can pass. Personal losses pile up. We lose our sense of meaning and purpose. We spend our energy unproductively. And the big picture of why God put us on earth in the first place begins to fade from view.

Tragically, a whole lifetime can pass without a person ever accomplishing the Great Things he or she was put on earth to do-and wants to do.

What keeps people from embracing and pursuing their God-given Dreams? I've noticed five common but deadly misconceptions:

  • "I don't have a Dream."
  • "I have to invent my Dream."
  • "I have a Dream, but it's not that important."
  • "I have a Dream, but it's up to God to make it happen."
  • "I had a Dream, but it's too late."
  • Take a minute to check your own beliefs. Read each statement carefully. Do any of these describe your beliefs about a Big Dream for your life? (If you're not sure, look at your actions. What you do is usually a result of what you actually believe.)

    But each of these five misconceptions is a trap. If you're caught in one of them, you will never leave Familiar until you reject your wrong thinking and embrace the truth.

    So let's look at the truths that can set a Dreamer free.

    You do have a Dream. It's part of what it means to be human, created in the image of God.

    You don't have to invent your Dream. Like the color of your eyes or your one-of-a-kind smile, your Big Dream was planted in you before you were born. The psalmist David wrote that all the days of his life had been "fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them."

    Your Dream is unique and important. You have been handcrafted by God to accomplish a part of His Big Dream for the world. How? Your Big Dream is meant to fulfill a Big Need he cares deeply about. The reason you're here is to take a part of His Dream from Point A to Point B. No one else can do it quite like you.

    Your Dream is yours to act on. God is waiting for you to value His gift of your Dream enough to live it. He will not force you to choose. Nor will he "make it happen" for you. You must choose. You must act. Paul's amazingly productive life was shaped by a single, driving commitment-to "lay hold" of that for which God had laid hold of him.

    You Big Dream is what God laid hold of you to do.

    And fortunately, while you still draw a breath, it's never too late to act on your Dream! Just ask Moses.

    Israel's epic journey to the Promised Land is the story of a nation in pursuit of its Big Dream. Their goal? To reclaim the land "flowing with milk and honey" God had already given them.

    But it is also the story of one man, a leader with a Big Dream-a dream to help Israel escape their bondage and find that future. His name was Moses. You've probably heard or read about the day when God reminded him of his Dream. Moses, then 80 years old, heard his Dream through a burning bush. God said, "I have surely seen the oppression of My people.... I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."

    You can imagine Moses' shock. In fact, he responded with one excuse after another.

    Did you notice that I said God reminded Moses of his Dream to be a deliverer? That's because from birth, Moses had been uniquely prepared and motivated for that very purpose. He knew it; he even thought other Israelites knew it! But as a young man, he had pursued it in the wrong way.

    Now 40 years had passed. I'm sure Moses thought his Big Dream had crumbled to dust. Then God interrupted Moses' life with an amazing message from the burning bush. It's as if God said, "My Dream is not dead because the Big Need is still there. And so your Dream is not dead, either."

    But how was an aging sheepherder going to rescue an entire nation from the most powerful king on earth? Like all Big Dreams, Moses' assignment seemed far too big.

    Here are three insights into every God-given Big Dream that we can glean from Moses' story:

  • A Big Dream always seems overwhelming at first.
  • Ultimately, a Big Dream is aimed at meeting a Big Need in the world.
  • While you still have breath, it's never too late to act on your Dream!
  • I'm so glad God returns again and again to present us with the gift of our life. Our Dream matters greatly to Him. There's no other you or me, just like there was no other Moses.

    Your Dream may not look quite the same as it did years ago. But the essence of the Dream-the tug of longing you feel to do what God made you to do-is still there. No matter what's happened in your past, or what circumstance you're in now, you can turn your heart toward your Dream, starting now.

    I've known people who can point to one conversation or spiritual experience when their future suddenly came into focus. But most of us don't see it all at once. We start with an inkling, a cluster of interests, a longing that won't go away. If we start there and set out, we give God a chance to show us more. One thing I know: God is not intentionally hiding your Dream from you. It's already in you. It's already who you are. Your opportunity is to discover it.

    These explorations have helped others:

    Think back to what you wanted to do while you were growing up. Of course, it might have been a whole list of things. Don't just settle for just the job description-a fireman, say, or movie star, or president. Think about what those roles meant to you then, and what they can reveal about your real interests and motivations now.

    Interview three people you respect, who you think are living their Dream. Ask them to share with you why they think you were put on this earth.

    If someone came along and gave you all the money you ever wanted, what would you do with it? More than likely, that's your Dream. Your first answer might be, "Live on a tropical beach and sip pink drinks." But more than likely, the beach only represents the end of your stresses and unfulfillment. It doesn't tell you much about the purpose and fulfillment you would crave once your stresses disappeared.

    Observe your life and write down your conclusions. Good questions to ask yourself include:

  • What have I always been good at?
  • What needs do I care about most?
  • Who do I admire most?
  • What makes me feel most fulfilled?
  • What do I love to do most?
  • What have I felt called to do?
  • Ask yourself what legacy you would like to leave for your children and grandchildren. What do you most want to be remembered for? I've found that most people who truly want to pursue their Dream can come up with a plan that makes a beginning possible. Of course, there's a price attached-at least one sacrifice and, often, several.

    Most people who feel stuck need to rethink their priorities. Usually they have put a certain standard of living, a way of life, or some other assumption above the priority of pursuing a Dream.

    Ask yourself questions like, What am I willing to sacrifice for my Dream? How could I mobilize my family to help me pursue this Dream? To what degree am I using my obstacles as excuses? Is there anything I can do right now to launch me toward my Dream? The minute you decide that you will do what it takes, you are already in pursuit of your Dream.

    So many people come from families-and even whole cultures-that don't believe in Big Dreams. If this is what you experienced, it can be very painful. You feel like you're walking around in a room where the ceiling is six inches too low! Maybe your family made it clear (without ever saying it) that you're not expected to achieve much. Or maybe your family only approved of certain kinds of Dreams.

    I encourage you to spend some time writing out a family Dreams profile for your family. What, in two or three sentences, was the big message about Big Dreams you received as you were growing up? (There is always a message, whether overt or subtle.) Who in your extended family would you say is living his or her Dream? Finally, what cost do you see your family paying because Dreams weren't honored? Once you understand how your family is affecting your beliefs and choices, you can take steps to change.

    I wonder if you still feel like a permanent, certified Nobody-unremarkable and unnoticed in your life. If so, I want you to know that God especially loves Nobodies! Jesus made a point of spending time with people who felt like Nobodies. They were probably more open to change and to receiving the wonder of God's love.

    Whatever you feel is true or not true about you today, you were made to be Someone Special, someone with a Big Dream beating brightly in your heart. And the world is waiting for you to begin your journey.

    Once you decide to pursue your Dream, you'll be amazed at how much your life changes.

    Remember Sonja, the waitress who wanted to be a nurse? Imagine with me a typical day in her life a few years from now. She will get up in the morning like always-but instead of putting on her apron and dreading another day, she will put on her nurse's uniform. She'll work hard all day doing something she loves. She may even save a life that day. After her shift, she will go home physically exhausted, but happy to the core. She will know that she is living in what I call her "sweet spot"-doing what she loves most, and meeting needs at the same time.

    Don't wait another day. Tell someone you trust today, "I have a Big Dream." Then, as best you can, tell them what it is. The first time you say your Dream aloud, you will hear your heart say, You were born for this!

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