When my husband and I left Freiburg ten years ago, I thought it was the last time I would feel smooth, curved German cobblestones under the arches of my feet.
On those carefully placed stones, each one connected to the other, I once walked regularly until my legs hurt. In that city, I learned to ride a bike in a sea of traffic, the signal of my outstretched arm as effective as a car’s blinking red light. The smell of cigarette smoke, coffee breath, and fresh rain on stone and concrete will always remind me of some of my deepest conversations with those in Freiburg about who Jesus is and how He loves them.
The memories I kept of that unique city were like evocative pictures etched with joy and ache. Joy for the gift of having lived there as a foreigner, a learner, and a minister, waking to the wonder of finding God’s face in a culture that wasn’t my own but undoubtedly His. Ache for the way it has always reminded me of a dream that died.
We had felt so sure about the call to ministry on our lives even before we got married. It was the very thing that first connected us as a couple, the thing that took us from one address and assignment to another and eventually to Freiburg. Freiburg was one of our last stops, the last clear call we heard from God, our last hope to see if something in ministry might actually work out for us in the long haul. But what had once felt like the greatest purpose of our lives — both as individuals and as a couple — started to seem like wearing clothes in the wrong size. We wrestled to make it fit, constantly adjusting and readjusting the way we looked at the future.
After Freiburg, we moved back to the States and left full-time ministry, a move that led us slowly and gently into wilderness and silence.
We clung to each other as we wrestled through the wake of dreams dying. There were days of melancholy and longing, repeated prayers of pleading to be called back to what was, tearful nights and quiet, lonely dinners. It terrified me when these days piled up, one after another, seemingly void of God’s voice and any clear leading other than to love each other and try to build something together no matter how simple. The nagging feeling that we were doing something wrong or that we ourselves were wrong and not good enough to be in ministry followed me around like a ugly shadow. The silence of that season uncovered my belief that being in ministry was evidence of God’s favor, love, and delight.
But about three weeks ago, after years of walking in wilderness and then more years of being invited to birthing and building new dreams, we went back. I watched our kids walk on Freiburg’s cobblestone streets, making up games about which stones to step on and which to step over. I witnessed their eyes, fresh with curiosity and discovery, take in new scenery. I witnessed their mouths, trying new tastes and textures, receiving some and rejecting others. They tried communicating with new sounds and symbols and their view of the world stretched wider than it had been. Seeing their delight was like a spring resurrection of an old dream long gone being made into something colorful, vibrant, and new.
One afternoon on our trip, I met an old friend for a latte macchiato. As she and I sat across from each other, she went on to tell me that the years we met regularly to talk about who Jesus was and how to study the Bible gave her a sure foundation for her longstanding faith and the faith of her family today. I listened while taking bites of Apfelkuchen, her words and the rain crashing outside like a thousand pieces of all the things I thought were lost now here again, piling into puddles of what was and what can be.
I am amazed by the story God was writing all along and grateful for a glimpse of it after so many years of questioning and wondering what had gone wrong. As our kids splashed in the cool bächle streams that run throughout the city center, I marveled at our daughter’s laughter and contentment – her story unfolding before my eyes and in our family, now connected to Germany herself. Adoption hadn’t even been on our radar the last time we had stood there with those very stones under our feet. I saw then what I couldn’t see ten years ago: the death of my dream was not the death of God’s dreams for me.
Maybe you are facing the same death or facing the wilderness of waiting for an answer. Maybe right now nothing makes sense and you’re questioning who you are or how you fit. Behind the veil of silent seasons, loss, drudgery, and dreams come undone, know that you are deeply loved and delighted in. God is at work. He is building new things in you and for you and these days of wrestling, each one placed one after another like cobblestone, will serve to build a beautiful path forward. There are new things to come.