About once or twice a year I have what I call my "teaching dreams". They usually come after I have asked some kind of spiritual question, or when I am reaching a turning point in my life where I need some kind of guidepost. About a week ago I was praying (something I really don't do often enough, although I spend a lot of time thinking and reading about the spiritual side of life), when I told to God straight out of that I was having a very hard time believing literally in Jesus. It seems every year that I get older, the constant stress and striving of life makes me more callous to the idea of simply trusting in something that is intangible, and bigger than our limited selves. Lately I've been thinking about it a lot, and I realize that I’m kind of in awe of people that have a true solid faith that they can trust in. So I prayed, and asked God if he would give me a lesson to help me along with this.
I've been laid off for about a year and a half - something I've never experienced before. Starting my own business had not proved to be as lucrative as I'd hoped for, due to the terrible economic climate we've been going through since 2001. In April I'd started looking pretty much full-time for a job, and was surprised to find it more difficult than I'd ever experienced in my life to find something that would meet my needs. By July, after being turned down after having as many as nine interviews with several companies, I was ready to give up in frustration. The only constant was that I was sure I had unemployment extensions until the end of December. I was in for a terrible surprise.
On July 2nd, shortly after getting up in the morning, I switched on my laptop computer on my bed to check my e-mail. Although I had just finished waking from a full night's sleep, I found myself falling very swiftly and into a deep dream-state. I typically only remember my dreams in little bits and fragments. Not so with my yearly teaching dreams. They are always very vivid - in fact larger and filled with more detail and emotion than my every day life.
In this dream I had just found out I had completely run out of money, and was forced to take a job back with my old company that I had had a distressing and disappointing long work experience with. My worst dream come true. In the dream, I found myself having to shovel garbage into plastic bags for the company, while my old boss followed me around and hurled insults at me telling me what a useless person I was. He was really enjoying having me back with the company again. All my old business cohorts were there wearing suits and ties in meetings, while I had to shuffle past them pushing garbage and stuffing it into dirty bags. There was dirt and filth everywhere to compound my humiliation. I was with a group of other people who had somehow found themselves in the same situation as me. We tried to make the best of it, but the situation was growing more hopeless as we found ourselves climbing endless stairs, trying to wade through the dirt and filth that grew worse on each floor of the dark, industrial warehouse.
Somehow, I found myself turning the corner of the endless stairway by myself, on the topmost floor. Everyone else, including the tormenting manager was just a few steps behind me. I stood up in surprise at what sat before me in the middle of the room: a giant sized, Hollywood style sheepdog with his fluffy fur standing up all over! He nearly filled the large room, and looked lost, but totally innocent, and very happy to see me. My first reaction was to set aside my bags and shovels, ignoring the impending warnings of my boss coming up the stairs below me. I just followed my impulse, and stepped towards the big jolly, impossibly large dog, and put my hands around his face. "Don't worry", I whispered to his soft muzzle, "you're not lost. I love you, and I'm going to take care of you".
The big dog suddenly had this cartoonish look of absolute joy on its face, and broke out with a big grin! I leaned forward to wrap my arms around him and give him a hug, and he bent down to me so I could reach him better. His eyes were right next to mine. Shocked, I suddenly realized I was not looking into the eyes of a dog, but some kind of unspeakably pure angelic being. His eyes filled me with an indescribable feeling of wisdom, compassion and pure joy that seemed to come from eternity itself.
Without words, his laughing, deep eyes spoke to my soul: "You don't have to worry. You've been taken care of."
At that point I turned around just as the other workers, and the supervising manager reached the top of the stairs. He was yelling my name and hurling insults at me, telling me to hurry up and continue shoveling garbage. I looked back for a second, and the beautiful, comical dog was gone. But, I was filled with a glowing, reassuring sense of calmness that everything was going to be all right. I, and the other people struggling with me were going to get through this. In spite of the darkness, I felt like shouting for joy!
The dream was over, and I woke up to find myself bathing in the radiant, warm feelings that lingered with me. I got up and went to check yesterday's mail downstairs, which uncharacteristically I hadn't opened from the day before. There was my unemployment check. It was stamped VOID all over it in big letters. Somehow the impossible, my worst fear, had come true right before my eyes. I live by myself, and have to pay all my own bills, including taking care of my two beloved cats. I've always taken good care of us, and it isn't easy to accomplish that. I was now out of any sort of income, and the rent and my bills were due this week. By all rational thought I should have been freaking out, and going into a panic. Instead, there was just this palpable feeling of guidance surrounding me, that I was simply looking at the manifestation of the next turn of events that was meant for my life. This was just a signpost along the way, showing me that it was now time for a change to take place.
To make a long story short, in a few short hours I discovered that the manager of a company that had turned me down a few months ago, was now offering me a new position that was better than the one I had hoped for, but had lost. A good friend from my previous job, who I had worked for, called the managers father, (a good friend of his) put in a good word for me, and basically worked behind the scenes to land me the job. I know that sounds a little confusing, but the incredible part is that I had been trying pretty much desperately since April to find a job, and it came through June 2nd, EXACTLY on the day I lost my only source of financial income!
If I hadn't fallen asleep a few hours before, and had that wondrous, more-vivid-than-life dream, I would have been put through a period of agonizing fear and stress. Instead I came away with the reassurance that my honest request to be taught a lesson in faith, was answered tangibly, and perceptibly by a personal creator who knows us, loves us, and DOES influence our lives when we simply give in for him to do so.
In the midst of my very dark situation, I came away with a renewed sense of connection with my Jesus - my personal spiritual savior, and friend. That lesson filled me with a joy that I had not experienced in many years. I am sharing this because I realized I have been given a great gift. Not everyone is given such a tangible answer directly in their time of need. I don't know why that is, and I don't know why I was chosen to receive this, but the joy and sense of confidence along life's journey it has given me, is something I want to share with everyone.
Maybe faith is something we simply need to ask for, and the answer is something we receive when the time is right. I believe faith is also something that needs to be followed with good works, and action when it is received. If you need it, just ask - the answer just might come in a way that you least expected.
Jim's Note: Interesting that it was a sheep dog, isn't it? Sheep dogs are used to help shepherds herd sheep. I found that to be a humorous twist slipped in there by the Good Shepherd himself.