Putting dreams on paper

I’m at a coffee shop—one of those fabulous local places where the high ceilings thrum with industrial pipes and funky lighting, and a large garage door is open to let in the mountain air—waiting for two of my creative team members.


Photo: Unsplash


Jim and Michelle are meeting me here to brainstorm over some needed changes to website, brand name, tagline, purpose. Who do I want to reach? What’s the best way to get there?

Which means, stay tuned for some exciting changes!

My husband, Gary, died on a snowy November day. As I was packing up to leave this central Oregon where we had created epic memories and where so many big-hearted people had circled their wagons around us, it was hard to visualize any kind of brimming life ahead without my husband.

We had shared some rather ridiculously large dreams. Gary and I wanted to host weekend retreats for cancer survivors and caregivers. A place of respite, renewal, repurposing. Nutritional cooking demos. Gentle hikes. Discussions around an outdoor firepit about managing stress, self-care, looking for ways to give back.

And then my husband died. And what we had dreamed together—together being the operative word—died with him.

When adversity hits, it tends to dislocate our vision. Those things we truly want to become. Writer. Business owner. College grad. Chef. World traveler. Horse whisperer. Inventor. Computer geek. Builder of bridges.

Shortly after Gary’s Celebration of Life service, my adult children presented options that allowed me to resign my position at the cancer center.

After which I picked up the broken shards of what I thought my purpose in life was, and rearranged them. And now there is a beautiful mosaic of new purpose.

Part of that purpose is hosting retreats for widows.

And part of it is coming alongside others through seasons of loss to help them discover new purpose.

Here are a handful of action items to encourage you in the direction of following your heart and intuition, even while dealing with unspeakable loss:

1. Brew a cup of tea and put your heart on paper. 

Nursing a steaming mug of tea and drafting lists can actually resolve most of the world’s problems. Or at least the ones that weigh heavily on your shoulders. Now that you’re ready to get back into life after some serious setbacks, what is it you want to accomplish or experience?

List the pros and cons of your dreams, because oftentimes our creative ideas arrive in imaginative best-case-scenario packages and it really does help to see the pluses and minuses in writing.

When Gary and I were newlyweds, I tried to talk him into homesteading in Alaska. Had we written a list of pros and cons back then, the first item on the minus side would have been: Limited wilderness survival skills.

Good thing Gary nixed my dazzling idea, else we’d still be buried in some Alaskan snowbank.

2. Seek out accountability. 

Who would be willing to listen to your vision and provide an outside perspective and accountability? Recruit a mentor, coach, business leader, or creative team. Who can ask the hard questions, look over your business plan, your medical school application, write a letter of recommendation? Who can guide you through the process of becoming a non-profit or read through your grant proposal? Check in with these people. Often.

The value of my creative team is not merely their input; it’s knowing that these innovative, entrepreneurial people genuinely want me to succeed. And you can’t put a price on that.

3. Work in the direction of the vision.

What steps can you take today, this week, this month in the direction of the goal? Have you always wanted to publish a book? Consider taking an online course to find out what’s required in today’s publishing world. I signed up for Michael Hyatt’s “Get Published” course, because it was good to know that I needed a literary agent; and it was good to know what literary agents are looking for in a book proposal.

What can you do now that heads you in the right direction? Meet with a CPA who specializes in non-profits? Research regulations for a bakery out of your home? Complete that scholarship application, meet with a real estate agent, update your passport, start learning to speak Javanese?

4. Reject rejection.

You don’t want to know how many rejection letters I’ve received through the years for magazine articles and book proposals. Enough rejections to send this message: You can’t write. But I was foolish enough to keep submitting.

As for our non-profit, Cancer Adventures, I looked online for speaking opportunities at conferences, cancer centers, and organizations like Gilda’s Club. Not everyone responded, but a staggering number of doors opened in all regions of the country.

Keep looking for doors. And keep knocking on them.

5. Just do it. 

Before you launch a yarn and tea shop, you should probably stock your shelves with yarns and teas. But oftentimes we don’t need to wait until the presentation is impeccable before we accept that speaking engagement. We don’t need to wait until we have country property of our own before brainstorming over weekend retreat ideas.

* * *

There were two young men exchanging friendly banter in line behind me at the coffee shop today. One of them said to the other:

It’s up to you what kind of special you want to be.

I like this adage—even though it was said in humorous sarcasm—because it’s a nice change from all the other time-worn motivational sayings.

It affirms that we have a choice in whether or not to pursue our passions. Especially after losing something so priceless as our health or a way of life, or someone so irreplaceable as a spouse.

You are distinct, exceptional, uncommon. There is no one else like you on the planet with your combination of genes and life experiences and skills and interests and quirks. You are unique.

When faced with adversity, we must dare to imagine there is another life waiting for us that we might fall in love with just as much as the old life we didn’t want to lose.

Which begs the question: What kind of special do you want to be and how are you planning to get there?

P.S. If you found this post thought-provoking or helpful, please share, tweet or pin!


How spontaneous are you?


10 ways to become infected with “helper’s high”


  1. Reynolds Rosalee

    Very thought provoking; something I needed to hear. I always enjoy your blog. Rosalee

  2. Kelly

    This was very thought provoking…. As I find myself in that place of decision.. so much to do, but how do I get there…
    This was a great read, thank you for charting the course of how to get there..
    God Bless You!

    • Kelly, you are such a go-getter and have accomplished so much already. I anticipate hearing more as you continue living forward, my friend!

  3. Peter

    Thanks as always Marlys. Being reminded to ‘declutter’ and ‘rearrange’ is so important, I know, I’m still fighting with ‘burnout’ but getting there. Within our ‘thought for the day’ there was the message, “You may not be able to decide how you will die BUT you can decide how you can live”. Your blog allows folks to make such decisions and surely to ‘Live life the way it aught to be lived’. God Bless, B & P

  4. Nasus

    Thank you so much, Marlys, for your always positive, inspiring, courage in a teacup, so beautifully written, as always!

  5. I’m dreaming what God can use the splinters of my life with . . . to comfort, edify and encourage. I’m dreaming with you how we can release new waves of Co-Co (Comforter and Counselor) healing for a hurting world. I’m excited! I’m praying for you as you retool and rebrand!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2024 Marlys Johnson