When Your World Falls Apart: What To Do When You Lose The Dream You Thought Came True

Another lifetime ago, I lived in Winston-Salem and worked with artists. I loved everything about my life: cool weather, historic places to explore, a beautiful townhome, lots of friends that gathered throughout the week, a creative job I loved, and volunteer service to help artists in the church and in the community.

I was living my best life–my best dream–till it all crashed to the floor.

I lost my job and couldn’t find another one. My finances ran thin, so I picked up part time work as a nanny. All the friends so eager to hang out before were now suddenly non-existent. The only thing I had left was my volunteer service, but I was quickly losing that too if I couldn’t afford my housing.

One night I was standing on the side of the road picking up dog poo from a client, and I had a light bulb moment. “What are you doing here?” I told myself. “You have a college education; why aren’t you using it?”

The dream I thought I had was gone, but I convinced myself that somehow it would all come back if I could just find a way to stay in Winston-Salem.

I decided to take on a roommate–first in over four years since college–to help out. I thought everything was going well and things were starting to look up. Then I overheard her on the phone looking for a new place to rent without telling me she wanted to leave. I was devastated and angry, so I acted quickly to take charge. I put in my notice with the leasing office, packed up my belongings, and moved home.

The Lie I Believed For A Decade

A lot of anger got packed up with me when I left that place. I didn’t understand how God could let me live the dream and then lose it.

I let the anger box away every good memory from that time in my life and tell me I would never again live a happy or fulfilled life.

I allowed myself to believe I never heard from God in Winston-Salem, and, maybe, I never heard God at all. For a decade thereafter, I lived in a cloud of sorrow and regret believing my best years were behind me. But God…

Hindsight is 20-20: Discovering My Tribe

Looking back now, I see things differently. The more I had tried to stay in Winston-Salem, the more I needed to go. My roommate was just the final straw in a long list of circumstances pushing me to leave. Sure, God could have opened doors of prosperity and protection to keep my dream going in Winston-Salem. If He had done that, however, it wouldn’t have been the full dream He had for me.

What I really had in Winston-Salem was a glimpse of my purpose and calling and clarification of who my tribe is.

Every Christian has a unique tribe or group of people they can talk to about faith and life without inhibitions. You have a specific set of skills that resonate with them, and they will listen to you in ways they won’t listen to otbers.

For me, that group is artists. While I loved my work with artists in Winston-Salem, I was meant to meet and work with more artists than just the ones in that location. I couldn’t have known that without leaving it.

Find Peace With It and Stay The Course

I had a choice to stay angry and distanced from God or forgive the past and move on. I chose the latter. Doing so opened doors for me to begin to heal from that pain and even see the beauty in it.

Understanding doesn’t come quick or easy, but one thing I did come to understand was that my best years were not behind me in Winston-Salem. A lot of good came from leaving, and a much bigger purpose for my life started happening after I came home.

Once you make up your mind to move forward after pain, you have to be determined to stick to it and not pick up that old grudge.

Allow God to give you new experiences. Put Him first and pursue the vision He gives you for your life. When you do that, you don’t have to go looking for ways to use your talent or feel fulfilled. God will put you in the path you need to go and lead you to ministry in unexpected ways.

Enjoy the journey!

How Memories Help Overcome Loss

A Guest Post By Shelton D. Whitman
Desperation began with a strong urge to cry uncontrollably. It moved to a choking feeling, and I was suddenly overwhelmed. Emptiness echoed inside; I was lost in a tunnel crying out, “anybody here?” and hearing nothing back. Sometimes the sound of silence is the loudest sound of all.
As the seven strong young Army men of the honor guard from Fort Bragg went through their program to honor my dad, I struggled to keep my composure. They escorted his casket to the grave, played Taps on the trumpet perfectly, folded the American flag that had draped his coffin, and presented it to the family. They fired a 21 gun salute and picked up every shell. They carried my dad to the mausoleum he would rest in and sealed it closed.
At no time did I feel in control of myself. In fact, I was sure that I wasn’t even there. My mind just shut down. I guess it was trying to protect me. When the dam broke, a flood of emotions overtook me, and there was nothing I could do but yield. The tears flowed uncontrollably, and I made no effort to stop them.
My thoughts soon drifted to better days. I remembered happier times I had with my dad and two brothers out fishing in a cool, Colorado river or trolling down an eleven mile reservoir for Kokanee Salmon. I could hear the sizzle of the fresh catch as they fried on the pan over the open camp fire. The taste of their warm, salty meat hit my tongue as though I was there experiencing it all again.
I remembered walking for miles into the Meeker and Creede,Colorado to big game hunt elk and deer. We would start walking early in the morning when the air was so cold we prayed for sunrise to come ribbon across the mountain and thaw us. We would start the day with boiled potatoes in our pockets to keep our hands warm. Later, we would eat them for breakfast. I remembered the deep bellowing bugle of a bull elk and the way I stood in awe at his majestic silhouette. Our hunting trips were not always successful, but we had a tremendous time just being together and enjoying the adventure of the outdoors.
All of a sudden, I was back again–crash landed into the reality of what was happening now. This amazing man who had conquered wild game and worked hard to provide a good life for his family, this man who served multiple active duty tours in the US Army and was shot at and nearly died but survived, this man who seemed larger than life, this unending giant was being laid to rest. Ernest Shelton Whitman–my father–who had begun his life on this patch of soil in Duplin country, was being laid to rest in the same patch of ground he got started in.
Duplin county in North Carolina is largely a rural county. Chicken, turkey, and hog farms abound. The land is quilted in large patches of corn, cotton, tobacco, and watermelon. Trees form natural borders with neighbors and cluster around creeks and streams that snake jagged lines through the county. Modern day GPS devices often get lost finding the private roads and lanes that lead to peoples’ houses.
On September 27, 1938, a native son was born to Robert Steele and Ethel Whitman. Ernest Shelton was the third child born to them, and he was the second child to die following them. The death of Ernest Shelton Whitman reflected the life of Ernest Shelton Whitman. His wife, three sons, three daughters-in-law, six grand kids, and six great-grand kids looked on in shock and disbelief as wonderful words of honor, respect, and comfort were spoken to them. Pastors Jeff Dale and Doug Bartlett spoke very well. I am thankful for all those who stood strong with our family and helped us through such a difficult time.
I am the eldest son, and my recollections may be slightly different than the rest of the family. This day proved to be one of the worst days I would ever have to navigate. Much of the day just went by me; I just tried to remember to keep breathing. Over the next days, weeks, months, and years, the reality of all this would somehow be absorbed into the fabrics of our lives. We would learn to stand a little taller, hold on to each other a little longer, and fight a little harder to move on. I’m not sure how three years have already passed, but the calendar says it is true.
It still just doesn’t seem possible that he is gone. I still break down into an emotional mess at the mere remembrance of my father, a man larger than life itself to me. I don’t know why he is not there when I call his house fully expecting him to say, “hello, son.” I still vividly remember the last time I saw him alive. We were looking through his impressive collection of watches. He handed me watches, one at a time, his face beaming with pride and satisfaction as he told me about each one. Then he surprised me by presenting me with his much coveted Omega wrist watch. I was thankful and stumbling over my words; he was smiling and glad to have such a reaction. We parted each other’s company with familiar words: “love you, dad. See ya next time”. But there wouldn’t be a next time. I wouldn’t see him again until he lay dying in his hospital bed.
I don’t know how one goes on from something like this. I guess we have to just keep putting one step in front of the other, and try to remember to breathe. I can’t see the numbers on the watch dad gave me when I wear it, but I wear it anyway to remember him. My memories growing up with my dad have become more precious to me. Memories have great power to heal us. When I need to talk to my dad, I look back into those memories and think about the man he was and would be today if he could be here.


Shelton Whitman served as an ordained minister for over thirty years in Colorado and North Carolina. He was well known and loved for his smooth, Elvis-like singing voice and his fiery sermons. He retired early due to health issues, and now lives with his wife, Wanda, in rural North Carolina on the farm his father and grandfather started. He shares his thoughts on his blog at: https://sheltondwhitman.wordpress.com/

Christmas Time Blues, Doubts, And A Hard Lesson In Valuing Your Health

This Christmas is not setting itself up to be one of my best ones, and it’s not because of what I’m about to tell you. It’s because so far this Christmas season, I have bought all my presents but not wrapped a one. I never found an ugly Christmas sweater to wear to the party, so I was completely left out of the photos. I’ve missed almost every Christmas song on the radio, been too busy-or sick-to decorate, and lost out on all my Christmas parties (even the ones I planned myself). It’s warmer than Autumn, most days this December, it’s not feeling like Christmas at all.

Christmas starts to feel like Christmas to me when the first cup of cider is poured in November, and the craft bazaars start popping up everywhere for early shoppers. This is my favorite time of year, and it excites me almost as much as Christmas morning, because this is the time I get to support local artists and buy gifts for the ones that I love. When we gather and give thanks at Thanksgiving, it just preps my heart more for the appreciation and love to come. The bright lights, the displays, and the holiday specials all feel magical to me. Christmas music and movies on constant play while I’m swimming in hot chocolate and gift wrap is…well…divine. Without all this cheer, all I hear is, “I’ll have a blue…Christmas.”

A Serious Wake Up Call

In the middle of my bustling, busy life, I got a serious wake-up call. I walked out the door, ten days before Christmas, excited to finally be going to a Christmas party, and my leg gave way beneath me. I fall on the steps and cried out for help. Help comes running, and I got back up only to feel my legs crumble again inside the house. I rested a moment, and looked at the clock; I was missing the party.

The shades of blue deepened in my heart. Again I tried to get up and leave. This time I made it to my car and fell completely on the cold, hard ground. I could feel the cold but nothing more, and I got scared. This falling business could be serious. I pulled myself up with a cane and my car wheel, but couldn’t hold it. My right leg was complete jello. All the strength of my left side was not enough to pick up Humpty Dumpty again. This time my cry for help would require a team of EMS workers to lift me.

With the arms of EMS gripped around me, I thought of my students. So many of them have expressed a desire to be EMS someday. I held on to the man closest to me–a volunteer first responder, a neighbor whose name I still don’t know. I let him be my legs that would get me to the stretcher and the ambulance and the hospital while I text work and my students what to do while their teacher missed class.

All Too Familiar

Six months before this moment, I was doing the same thing only much more damaged and covered in blood. I was hit by a van and spun down the highway three times. My brand new car was totalled. My face was cut and permanently scarred. My back was severely shaken out of alignment. Yet, I survived.

I remember thinking, in those few seconds of white as I spun down the road, “God, is this going to be it? This can’t be it. I’ve got so much left to do in the world.”

Then I thought about the tractor-trailer. Where was it? It had been right behind me before I was hit. I closed my eyes and braced for a second impact. “Oh God, Oh Jesus, please help me!”

I knew I would most likely not survive that blow. As my car spun out, I thought about my loved ones and how it would hurt them. I thought of all the things I left unsaid. I thought about my job, my goals, and my dreams. I wasn’t ready for the end.

Then suddenly, the car stopped. I opened my car door and tried to get out as quickly as possible. If I was still in the road, I didn’t want to be hit again. But I was not in the road. Somehow, I had been spun around enough to put me facing oncoming traffic but resting safely on the side grass a few feet beside the road sign.

This was God’s answer: Not yet.

Temptation To Doubt God

Landing back in the hospital, my thoughts spiraled.

“Are you sure, God? If I have a purpose not yet done in this world, why bring me more pain and suffering? How can that further your cause?”

I questioned God, but I didn’t get angry. I didn’t understand the purpose in the pain, but I remembered that we were never promised a struggle-free life.

In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world. –John 16:33 NIV

Four hours later lying immobile in the hospital bed, a CT scan revealed that I had a herniated disc in my lumbar spine. I left with heavy drugs, possible surgery, and weeks of required time off work. When it was all said and done, my body reset itself, and I learned a hard lesson in paying attention to my health.

But in the moment…all I had was the hope that God really was in control.

I wrote this poem:

Now my Christmas may be less active and bright.

I may be seeing your lights from a distance tonight.

I will be sending you gifts of hope and cheer,

while you celebrate with all who are near.

As you open your gifts, there’s one gift I hope we can share:

It’s the gift of the Christ child on Calvary’s snare.

What meant to kill and steal him from the Earth,

Gave to us our second birth.

Merry Christmas!