Every ship that has ever sailed has a captain at the helm. The captain’s first job is to believe in his vessel. He may know of the imperfections it holds, but encourages and finds the beauty in his ship. He knows the job isn’t perfect, but he feels blessed to be given the opportunity to steer such a magnificent unit in the direction it is intended for. Every captain begins their journey with a plan—a map of the course they want their ship to carry them. They continue with faith that the mapped course will be well, wonderful, and as close to their plan as possible. I can imagine the first time a captain lays eyes on the ship—their heart skips a beat. They are so excited to see in person . . . the vision from their dreams.
I was that captain.
I remember the first time I saw it in person. I had studied the pictures online, but in real life it was even more magnificent. As I stepped out of the car it was almost like I heard angels singing Halleluiahs. Their chorus carried on as I walked up the front walkway.
It was the week of Thanksgiving 2009. We had just pulled into town—me with our four kids piled in our minivan, and Emmett in a U-Haul full of our belongings. The minute we pulled up to our new house, my heart skipped a beat. We had made it. The house of my dreams—and it was going to be ours.
(Thanksgiving Day 2009)
For the first time in our marriage we were going to be out of school and making our own money. Emmett had been given the opportunity to spend his last semester doing an Externship for the public defender’s office while he began his career in Bankruptcy Law. We had four amazing kids, and we had each other—and now to top off all of our blessings—we were getting our dream house. All of the goals we had planned for our young family were being checked off of our list . . . one after another.
The closing for our house didn’t come the next day as we thought it would. Luckily my brother Jeff and his family were out of town for the week spending Thanksgiving with Dani’s family. So we bunked up in their house with our U-Haul parked out front.
As the week progressed, we continued getting our closing date moved out. Thanksgiving came and went, and we still did not have the key in our hands. Finally, on Monday, the call came and the papers were ready for us to sign. We were like giddy little schoolgirls as we drove down to the title company. Our first house—it was like a dream.
We walked out of that office like we had won the lottery. We were so proud of our new adventure, and my mind reeled at all of the perfect days that would take place for our little family in that dream house.
Emmett helped me unpack the truck, and then he headed out to catch his plane. He still had finals to take back at Gonzaga, and our delayed closing date left the kids and me alone in our big empty house to begin unpacking.
He was gone for two weeks for his tests—and everything that could have gone wrong did. We got the stomach flu, and our washer and dryer had not arrived yet. Many days I would load up all four kids in the car and heap puked on sheets into the trunk and cart them across town to Emmett’s dad’s house to do wash. He was in Mexico but luckily had sent me his garage code.
The kids were having a heck of a time adjusting to being in a new home. Furniture and appliances were yet to be delivered. It was just a rough couple of weeks all together—but I didn’t even notice. I was still in awe of all the dreams I was watching unfold. I laughed every time we threw up all over ourselves and I began to make a joke about how many gallons of puke I could carry in my car. I was in a fairy tale. One that was full of dirty diapers, and puked on sheets . . . but I was living my dreams. I was the luckiest captain alive.
Many people have told me they didn’t realize how much work being a parent would be until they were thrown into it. I never saw it like that. I knew exactly what each of those commitments entailed, and I still loved every second of them. Now I was doing them in my dream house—with my dream family—life was close to perfect.
I continued to steer my course. I cleaned up scraped knees in that ship's quarters. I changed diapers and got poop (literally) on my face. (For those of you who witnessed that one I am eternally sorry—some things can’t be unseen). In that house I read for hours—chapter books about the adventures of a brother and sister who believe in a magic tree house. I hauled groceries and babies in and out of that front door. I built snowmen in the front yard. I decorated and cleaned and organized. I baked cookies and walked to parks. I taught my babies how to ride their bikes on that street, and to swim in that neighborhood pool. I burned dinners and broke glass cups in the sink . . . but every night I snuggled up close in its safe walls and I smiled. My dream house was proving to be everything I had mapped out for it to become—a haven for my future, and a keeper of my love.
But somewhere a long the way . . . that house became everything it never should have been. The darkness that grew in its walls—in just one night—became more black than the night sky. The fear that penetrated my dreams while I tossed and turned in my ship, threatened the peace that it had once promised me. All of the sudden, a house that once seemed to be my “Captain’s dream ship” began to be a reminder of all the wrong turns that were taken despite my happiness inside of it.
Shawn had stepped in, and taken a spot in that ship that had already been walked all over. He started to feel as if he were a replacement. He felt threatened by a distant glorified memory of the past. He walked around inside the walls of a dream he wasn’t always a part of. We talked many times about starting over somewhere else, but the thought of leaving my ship felt like another abandonment I did not feel prepared to face. So we stayed—many days both of us on autopilot to avoid the feelings of inadequacy we didn’t want to acknowledge, or the abandonment we did not want to face.
(Our First Christmas)
Almost every night, after Emmett had died, I had horrible dreams. They usually rattled me up, but some nights were more debilitating than others. Each dream was very vivid, and usually always ended in the same way—with someone I loved dead.
One night I had another nightmare, but this time it was a mix of both of the worlds I had tried to cram into one ship. In my dream Shawn and Emmett were both there in our house. They were staring at each other, almost as if they wanted to fight one another. They began talking very angrily and then started screaming at the top of their lungs. All of the sudden there was a gunshot—but this time they were shooting each other. Rob wasn’t the one with the gun . . . they were. And by the end of the dream, they were both dead on my living room floor.
My eyes jolted open and I was in a state of shock. Panic shook through every part of my body. My heart felt as if I were having a heart attack. I moved my hand toward the other side of the bed. Someone was laying next to me. Who? Emmett? Did none of that really happen? What was real? Emmett . . . he . . . is dead? . . . That can’t be real. Emmett can’t be gone. But . . . what about Shawn, where is Shawn? I need Shawn. My mind raced through all of the bad dreams—and all of the living nightmares that had played out in that very house.
The panic attack lasted a few hours as I tried to figure out, in the darkness, what parts of my horrors were real—and which parts were just dreams. Many hours passed before any sort of reality could settle in my heart. I never went back to sleep—just stared into the darkness trying to piece together the past.
By the time everyone else in my house woke up, I had a plan. We were getting out of that house! I couldn’t wake up from another nightmare in the same place where all the pain had struck me.
That afternoon we drove around to try to find a new place to live. It didn’t have to be a dream house—just a house. One where the kids didn’t have to change schools, but there were enough bedrooms and a back yard. Just a house—one that didn’t hold any memories from our past. A house—that when I woke up from my nightmares—I was somewhere different then the place where they came true.
We turned onto a road I knew well, and there it was—a sign. I had just been visiting there a few days before. I called my friend and said, “Hey, you have a sign in your front yard . . . you selling your house? Can we come look at it?”
That night we made an offer, and closed a few weeks later. As we packed up our belongings, to move to the new house, I had so much hate in my heart. I whispered to its walls of all the things it didn’t do for me. I screamed from the top of my lungs—when I went back alone to clean—of all the HELL that it had put me through. I blamed my house for all the unknowns I still hoped to hear—like it had been hiding the truths from me.
I wasn’t sad—I was relieved to leave it behind and move on to a new ship. I didn’t need my dream ship to smile, and it had proven it wasn’t going to bring the happiness I felt it had promised me. We thought about keeping it as a rental, but I didn’t want to step foot inside it ever again. So we threw a For Sale sign in the front yard, and walked away.
One day I got a call that an offer had been made and I needed to go into the Title company to sign the house over to the new owner. Again with hate in my heart, I robotically signed all the papers with “good riddance” under my breath, and headed out to the parking lot.
I got in the car to drive home. I was flooded with the memories of the first time I had signed papers on that house. Tears started to well up in my eyes. My heart began to feel heavy the closer and closer I got to my new home. And then the panic hit. My ship had sunk. I remember saying a pleading prayer to God that day. “What was so wrong with my plan? What was it in my plan that didn’t work? I had it all figured out. Why wasn’t the course I mapped out enough? Why couldn’t the dreams I had written so long ago . . . be the ones that I lived?” No answers came to settle my heart.
I felt like the captain of the Titanic that day. I can picture him watching as his dream ship went into the water. I bet he played—in his own mind—all the memories he had leading up to the moment when he was made the Captain of it. His pride and dignity sunk before the ship went under. He knew in that moment that he was not in control. He saw first hand that no matter how much love and honor he put into his dream . . . it still sunk.
The captain of Titanic didn’t get to safety to watch his dream ship sink—he went down with it. He gave up his ability to ever sail again, when the thought of losing his dream was too much to take. He saw that sinking ship as a failure of his own doing—and he didn’t allow himself to look to the future for a new dream. He died inside of a sinking ship—his dream ship took his life.
We don’t always get to plan for the icebergs in our lives. We don’t always get to choose to steer our ship around them. Sometimes it is too dark to see them coming, and other times we have too much light in our eyes to see the dangerous waters for what they really are. Sometimes our dreams are going to hit icebergs. We are going to be slammed into the currents and our ships may even sink, but that doesn’t mean we stop being the best damn captain we always wanted to be.
I didn’t ever think as I turned that key for the very first time, that I was opening up the door to a sinkable ship that would hit an iceberg. I thought for sure that my voyage was going to continue to be blessed with smooth waters.
Signing over the papers to my dream ship was a big day for me. It was a symbolic reminder of the failure that dream had become, but unlike the captain of the Titanic who went down as his dream sank to the bottom of the ocean floor—I am still sailing. I am still pioneering this thing we all call life. I am still hitting icebergs and catching waves. Sometimes those waves have been a small rollercoaster, and other times I have wiped out. There have even been days when I have questioned why I didn’t just sink along with it.
Life isn’t about the ships—it is about sailing them through the storms. The captain of the Titanic didn’t have to go down just because his dream seemed to be over. Maybe your dream house turns out to be the pinnacle of your fall—or maybe your iceberg was just the turn you needed to find a different course.
The loss of our dreams is not the end of our hope. Find hope in the fact that when God closes a door—He will always open a window. It maybe a different view than you had planned—but you still will get to watch as your life unfolds.
Don’t go down with your sinking ships. Businesses are going to fail; marriages are going to end; and we are going to lose the people we love—but we don’t have to lose ourselves. The dreams that end give us an opportunity to find the next one waiting around the corner. There are no endings in this life that are eternal—only beginnings to new dreams.
(Tytus learning to walk in the driveway)
You are the captain of your destiny; you hold the wheel . . . but God steers the course. Don’t let your fear of your sinking ship stop you from walking away when it falls. Don’t go down without a fight. You are the dream—the ship was just trying to take all the credit. It is you that made that ship one out of a dream.
The Titanic was never designed to hit an iceberg—but we came to earth knowing we would. We were never promised that all we would sail were smooth waters—but we still chose to come down as determined Captains piloting ourselves through the waves.
Stand tall in the storms that are trying to take you down. Your life is more important than the seemingly failed dreams. Dreams were never meant to be written—they are made to be lived. If your ships have sunk, and you are wondering why you should continue to sail—just remember that a new ship is waiting for you. You may not be able to see it from the bottom of the ocean, but something great is waiting for you. It might look different than the life that hit an iceberg—it may be far from the map you tried to plan—but you still have the ability to captain a new course.
Stand tall, you are not alone. We are all captains, and each one of us has—or will someday—lose a dream ship. Don’t let your fear of losing your dreams stop you from living them. There isn’t a perfect course—only imperfect captains hoping they will never give up the fight . . . to keep sailing.
(Shawn's first time putting up the lights)
(Sisters playing in the front yard)
(Snuggles with Ty in the front yard watching a water fight)
(First snow of the year in the old house)