God gives us dreams for three reasons,” Suzanne Williams shared with 12 of her young friends. “God-given dreams bring Him glory, lead us to serve others and help us grow.” The students leaned in, soaking up her words.
“What are three of your life dreams?” she asked the kids. A slew of answers followed, but not the answers we might expect. This group of teens is different; not because they have disabilities or special needs, not because some of them require assistance to do simple things we take for granted, but because their hearts make them some of the most amazing kids in Nashville.
Over the course of a year, Williams, coordinator for Young Life Capernaum in Nashville, Tenn., and a team of leaders walked alongside a dozen students with disabilities to help them each identify and achieve a God-given life dream. The dreams had to meet all three criteria of glorifying God, serving others and helping students grow in their own lives.
The dreams kids brought forth were amazing, powerful and overwhelming. Capernaum leader Lacey Douthit shared, “What is your dream in life? Most of us would respond with grandiose ideas of world peace or great wealth, but not these kids. In that room, we heard things like, ‘I want to make a worship CD to sell in order to raise money for taking my friends to summer camp,’ and ‘I want to collect toys for the sick children at the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.’”
Students grabbed hold of the truth that they could make a difference — that God had gifted them and could equip them to affect their community. “Watching each of our friends realize that God has gifted them to do things on His behalf, seeing them understand that He desires for them to be a significant part of the community was awesome,” recalled Williams.
Leading the charge
Katie Hamilton shared her dream of collecting toys for sick kids at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital — longing to make their time in the hospital more enjoyable.
With the help of Douthit, her mom and others, Katie made a plan. She began by gathering women from her church to share the idea, along with a list of toys the hospital needed. Katie then hosted a party where the caveat of entering was bringing a toy as a donation. Her guests did not bring just one, but several, and Katie ended up with three large baskets filled with dolls, stickers, construction paper and many other gifts for the children.
“It was incredible to see the confidence [Katie] gained realizing that God had given her leadership abilities to live out something He had given her to do and, because of that, seeing Him bring people around her to help make it happen,” said Williams.
Singing for Him
Katie Harbison loves to sing. She passionately shared her dream of recording a worship CD — giving others the opportunity to worship God through music, then selling the CD to raise money for her friends to attend Young Life camp.
Making a record would also grow Katie in the areas of patience and perseverance as Williams and many others in Nashville’s rich music community came around her. Ellie Holcomb had known Katie from Capernaum club and jumped at the chance to mentor her. She walked with Katie through every detail — from recording to the CD release party. She reminded Katie that being on stage is not about Katie, but about God and the audience knowing Him.
Paul Eckberg, who has worked with artists such as Caedmon’s Call and Jeremy Redmon from Big Daddy Weave, produced the CD. “Paul showed Katie excellence,” shared Williams, “He said, ‘God’s given her this dream and passion, she deserves excellence like anyone else who walks into this studio.’”
Many musicians gathered to play on the tracks and longtime Young Life friend Stephan Sharp came to help Katie with her favorite song, “Made to Worship” (recorded by Chris Tomlin and written by Sharp). Katie was ecstatic to meet Sharp, and thrilled to have him play on the CD.
By the time the CD release party rolled around, Katie had not missed a beat. She participated in the entire recording process, including a photo shoot, and was ready to sign CDs for all her friends who helped her dream become a reality.
Jimmy Clark, another Capernaum student and Katie’s boyfriend, remarked after the CD release party, “I thought it was very powerful, what she said about wanting to raise money for Young Life, for kids to go to camp ... Katie has a big heart. I could see God in her heart from the way she was expressing herself ... I think that’s what God wants us to do, go out there and express our testimonies ... Katie did that. And her music is amazing and powerful ... I thought, ‘This really is a woman who cares about people,’ because she talks about the way she wants all kids to go to camp and I think that is the way the Lord is using her.”
As Williams said, God-given dreams bring Him glory, lead us to serve others and help us grow into more of who He has created us to be. Williams and her team listened to their friends’ hearts and helped them walk out these dreams. “It was just another thing we got to be a part of where we were each reminded that God has gifted our friends and when given the platform to live out their passions, they succeed. We took time to listen and to help them plan. Others in the community also came alongside — speaking truth to their dreams and helping them flourish in their giftings. In the end, we are just doing Young Life,” Williams reflected.