Sometimes, I’m surprised by the directions a character’s life will take them when I write. It doesn’t seem possible. I’m the one creating the character’s world. I should know what’s going to happen, but I’m often as surprised as the reader to find out where my characters are going. Once the characters develop, my direction becomes clear. But I usually don’t start with a plan.
I’ve been to enough writers’ conferences to understand most authors are not encouraged to work this way. Our stories should be planned out before writing the first word. Each little hiccup in the characters’ world is carefully planned to reach the next desired destination. The author uses these pre-planned hiccups to create questions and conflict that mirror real life for the characters. Just ask Audrey and Willard.
Living in Nebraska when Pearl Harbor is bombed, Audrey and Willard have plenty of life’s hiccups to contend with in Canteen Dreams by Cara Putman. Audrey wrestles with letting herself live life when fear, the unknown, and loss are being thrown in her face each day with the war. Being a woman, Audrey can’t serve in the military. Instead she gives herself completely to a canteen project to encourage the soldiers who are serving. It’s a great cause, but Audrey has to learn if she’s doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. It’s something that she loves, but what if God wants something different for her?
After his brother gives his life at Pearl Harbor, Willard feels pulled to serve against his father’s wishes. The more time he spends on the ranch, the less content he becomes. Even the joy of getting to know Audrey is tainted with his discontent. Like many men at that time, Willard struggles with feeling like he isn’t doing his part as he watches strangers and friends signing up to fight. Will God really ask him to stay home when his heart is in serving? How can he learn to accept it if that is God’s plan for him?
Finding peace, contentment, and joy are struggles for Audrey and Willard because their plans don’t seem to be connecting with God’s plan. This puts them in the hard place of surrender. While their story may be fiction, the difficulty of surrender is anything but fiction. We learn early to dream of and plan out our futures. We pair these desires with the truth the God loves us. In our limited and faulty understanding, we believe this means our dreams will be blessed by God and come true. We never stop to consider if they should.
God is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). He sees the big picture. God gives us passions and dreams, but not all dreams are from Him. We start out chasing our dream, and then, the hiccups begin. Our path leads everywhere but to where our dream comes true. We struggle, holding tightly to our dream, knowing it has to be what God wants. It’s a good, worthy dream. Why God isn’t blessing it? We haven’t considered if our dream is God’s dream for us. We have to give our precious dream to God. It’s scary. He may not give it back. He may ask us to give it up in order to follow what He wants for us. Other times, we know the sweet feeling of God returning our dream with His blessing. Even then, the path may not be smooth. But if we keep seeking God, we will have hope. Soon, we may even see those hiccups were preparing us to live our dream in a better way than we ever hoped.
By the Book: Read Hebrews 11. It’s full of people who found the dreams God had for them looked a little different than they first imagined, but they followed in faith knowing His way was the best way. What dreams are you holding onto? Have you surrendered those dreams to God and asked Him to help you want His will above all else, even if it means giving up your dream?