The Dash

The DASH — so small, yet it represents your life 

Do you ever wonder what the purpose of your life is? Do you wish the dreams in your heart could become a reality in your day to day life? Do you ever think, there has to be more to life than this? 

We found ourselves feeling the weight of those questions in a very real way in November 2014. The three years leading up to that had been very challenging.  We faced depression, the truth of being a workaholic, and marital problems that almost ended our 20-year marriage and threatened to tear our family apart. With repentance, commitment, and love, we were coming out on the other side, stronger than ever. Then within a matter of about one week in November 2014, a whole new type of storm came. Extended family issues, employee issues, and a 4.0 tornado tore through the town where our studio is, destroying over 1000 homes just seven blocks from the studio. 

As I worked very long and emotional days that November, the reality of life seemed to hit us in a whole new way. As I sat with a client after client sharing their horror stories of what they endured during the tornado. Then experiencing their heartache as they share what they would face as they rebuilt their lives.  My thinking was changed.  Jeff & I both realized life is short and what we own can be gone tomorrow, but it is our relationships with each other and our kids that matter. It brought us to a place of questioning everything, including whether owning a full-time portrait studio was how I wanted to spend my days?

This is where “the dash” came in.  In the wake of such a life altering event, we decided that pushing away these difficult questions that were regularly swirling through our hearts and minds, would be a huge mistake. 

While the thought of giving them space brought up a lot of fear of the unknown, we felt the outcome of ignoring them might be even worse.  We decided to enter individually into “the dash” and then come together during a romantic get away and share with each other what we had uncovered.

The concept of “the dash” is you are born this year — you die this year, what does the dash look like in between.  Of course, Jeff and I’s approach to this exercise were very different from each other. Imagine that, we are man and woman. Here is a bit of our experience.

Jeff struggled with avoiding it or putting it off, as he faced his fears of dreaming bigger than he thought he might be able to achieve. Through some support of some friends (Dan & Aileen Tocchini creators of where Jeff was attending their Transformational Coaching Academy), he was challenged to begin his process by writing his eulogy first. That helped to shift his perspective as he thought about the end of his life and what he would want to have been as a husband, father, friend, creative, entrepreneur and colleague. After weeks of dragging his feet and threatening to not enter into the dash at all, he wound up typing five pages of his heart's desires for his life.

I began entering into my dash the day after the concept was mentioned. I was so excited to listen to my heart and let it lead me in a whole new way. As a photographer, I tend to create backward as I first get clear about what is wanted and needed for the end result, and then I capture the images from that perspective. As I thought about God being the artist, I sat with Him and asked Him to show me what He saw when He created me. Knowing He sees me at my greatest potential, I asked Him what He saw when He thought of me as a wife, a mom, a sibling, a friend, creative, an entrepreneur, and colleague? For the next couple of hours, I wrote whatever came to mind. The next morning, I sat with God again and reread what I had written the day prior. At that moment, I heard that still small voice inside me say, “you have written what you are willing to do, would you be willing to consider what you want to do?” The next two hours proved to be very emotional, as dreams from my childhood that I had long ago forgotten, began to emerge.  New possibilities and desires for creative expression and exploration began to emerge.

When Jeff and I came together and shared our dash's with each other, it was a very tearful experience as we enjoyed hearing each other dream in a whole new way. It was nothing short of miraculous how beautifully our individual dreams merged. The main common threads between our visions were the following:

we wanted to know God and be known by Him
we wanted our marriage to be the most important human relationship in our lives
we wanted to know truly our children and be present and in life with them.
we wanted to live on the west coast
we wanted to live each day of our life fully alive as we explore, learn, and create
we wanted to live long and healthy lives and take care of our bodies

As we sat in that moment, our eyes expressed the whirlwind of thoughts flowing through our brains: how, when, where? Those were the immediate questions. Were we crazy? What made us think these things were possible. At that time, we lived in Illinois in our dream house, Julia’s portrait business was busy and successful, and Jeff was in the process of defining his passion. We were enjoying our comfortable lives. 

There were so many things that made the possibilities of these dashes, seem impossible. Yet, we choose to trust that our hearts knew best.  We began to open up our minds to what could be. We began taking one small step at a time. Within two days of our meeting, I knew I needed to sell my photography business. I had no idea how to do that!  But one phone call lead to another, and each encounter made me more aware that things had already been set in motion long before I took this step of obedience. They were showing me I was on the right track. It was like God had the physical universe lined up to light my pathway. All He needed me to do was to obey the knowings of my heart. Before we knew it, the business was sold, our home had sold (in less than 48 hours), Jeff had miraculously gotten a request to consult with a company in Northern California, our new company was being born, and we were moving to California (just 45 minutes from the location where we had enjoyed our romantic getaway 7 months prior as we shared our dash's with each other.)

As I write this nearly 1.5 years after dreaming into our dash's, it is quite amazing to see how much of our dash's are now a reality. We had heard the verse many times, Without a vision my people perish. Yet, we had never taken the time to vision. Sure we had a vision for material things and the success we wanted for our business, but we had never allowed ourselves to vision our lives. We now understand why as a couple, individuals, and a family, we got closer to dying mentally, emotionally and spiritually than we ever hope to get again. We have learned that this verse is truer than we could have ever imagined. And when God created us with a start date and an end date here on earth, He filled that little line in between with so much more power, love, and impact than we can ever imagine. 

It is up to us to choose it.


Julia WoodsComment