Is there a dream-defender in your life?

There were always several hands in the air during the Q&A. The freshmen were my favorite. “Ooh, me, me! Pick me!” So full of enthusiasm and hope. Surprisingly attentive. 


Gary and I were at a local high school, presenting in three different health classes about living well with terminal disease. I had almost forgotten how much fun it was to hang out with teenagers. 

Each class was an hour and a half in length, which left plenty of time for interaction. We brought Hershey’s chocolate kisses to encourage intelligent questions. 

Some would call it bribery.

There were always several hands in the air during the Q&A:

“How did your children take the news?”

“Do you appreciate life more now?”

“Why do you say, ‘We have cancer’?”

One of my questions for the students was this: “Do you have to go out for track to get an ‘A’ in this class?” (The health teacher, Dave Turnbull, is also the track coach with a reputation for state trophies.) 

“Not really,” the students answered.

“It helps!” Mr. Turnbull interjected. 

Someone named Wilferd A. Peterson said:

Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it.

Back in year three of cancer, Gary mused out loud: “Wouldn’t it have been great, when I was diagnosed, to talk with another couple who looked like they were living well with cancer? To find out what they were doing?” 

And so we brainstormed over what it might look like if we were that couple.

We drafted a tag-team presentation and asked for critique from an oncologist. He then recruited a team of medical professionals to provide additional feedback.

This doctor was one of our dream defenders.

We met with a CPA who helped us with the paperwork of becoming a 501(c)(3) non-profit, enlisted a board of directors, and started looking online for grant funding. 

It was one of our ways of leaning into an uncertain season—embracing it, not afraid of it, believing something good could come of it. 

While holding down our day jobs, I booked speaking engagements in all regions of the country—at medical conferences, rotary clubs, churches, survivorship luncheons, nursing student conventions, and cancer centers. 

Which explains what we were doing hanging out in health class with teenagers. 

Here’s what you need to know: Gary and I had never established a non-profit. Although I managed grants in my job at the cancer center, I had never written for grant funding. Gary was the type who would’ve paid to not stand in front of audiences and speak. 

We were way out of our league. And yet we persisted in telling our living-well-with-cancer story – spreading hope and sharing practical take-away tips. 

This wisdom from Beth Moore:

Nothing about outward focus during inward pain is natural but it could well be our survival. If you and I want to lie down and die long before we’re dead, being self-consumed in our season of suffering should do the trick.

It’s normal to focus inwardly. On us. On our setbacks and the complications in life that affect our families, our finances, our future.

Sometimes, though, part of our restoration can be as simple as looking outwardly and then doing something about what we see.

It’s easier, more comfortable, less risky to stay home with feet propped on coffee table, watching other people lead extraordinary lives. 

But Gary and I determined to get off the couch and venture out, dispensing hope and courage and laughter to audiences in all regions of the country.

And in the process, we created more fun and adventure than during any other period of our marriage.

The quote from Wilferd A. Peterson at the beginning of this piece—about walking with the dreamers and the courageous and letting their spirits ignite a fire within us—this resonates with me. 

It’s not a lightweight platitude about dreaming.

It speaks about the audacity, the courage, the persistence to roll up our sleeves and show up and do the mundane, dreary, thankless work of getting a dream off the ground. 

What if?

What if our own brokenness could be restored as we seek an outward focus, as we look for opportunity to help ease the hardship and sorrow of others around us?

What if we could associate with people who believe in the beauty of our goals as much as God does?

And what if we could be a dream defender for someone else?

Hang out with these people, says Peterson. Be these people.


Go make stuff this year … the world needs makers


What if making a difference might be painful?


  1. Grace Lawson

    Even though Gary is in Heaven, still Gary and you are blessings to many people !! Thanks !!!

  2. Rosanne

    Powerful words, Marlys. This is what God means about going deeper with him. Thanks for a boost in that direction.

    • It’s not necessarily intuitive, is it, Roseanne: engaging an outward focus in our sorrow and loss, seeking to leave our corner of the world better than how we found it. Good for you for heading in that direction.

  3. Tom F Stutheit

    Thanks for the encouraging words. As my brother is in the final state of cancer and seeing how calm he seems as he says he is ready to be with the Lord. I search for the difference that this will make to me. Or, does the Lord want me to do something different?

    • Tom, I’m so sorry to hear about your brother’s battle with cancer. Your searching and questioning are healthy. I pray you find your answers.

  4. Mary Jo Ferrante

    Have you considered writing a book? You are an incredible writer. Do not know if we have met in the past or not. We have known Steve and Cheryl for years. My husband performed Steve and Cheryl’s wedding.

    • Mary Jo, I know you through Steve and Cheryl who have spoken highly of you and Joe all these years! Yes, I’ve written a book and recently signed with a literary agent. She’s getting read to “shop” the manuscript to publishing houses. Bottom line: If this happens, there will be no doubt it was God who opened the doors.

  5. Donna M Berger


    Excellent post. So profound and true. I know I will be quoting it!

    All the best & blessings, Donna

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