Dreaming Wide Awake

A few years ago I watched a movie that left me speechless. And I just watched it again with the same results. The movie is about the true story that inspired the hit song I Can Only Imagine.

If you are not familiar with it, the song paints a picture about our next life. You know, the one we hope to experience one day, but few of us are in a rush to get there.

Surprisingly the movie is NOT about heaven. It’s about life in the here and now. It’s about the struggle, the perseverance it takes to endure, and the relationships that often times require our attention.

To be candid with you, I was expecting the movie to be predictable fiction faith with fake fears and tears an overly dramatic ending. Honestly, when I sat down to watch it, I just wanted to be distracted by something that would at least be entertaining. However, in the next 90 minutes, it captivated my attention, and by the end, it exposed for me an area in need of awakening, and an image of a new-found belief.


Instead of being merely entertained, I was awakened by this movie. It was as if I was jolted from a slumber. When the movie was over, I sat there reflecting on my own life and the journey I’ve taken. A mental picture came into view. It was as if I was dreaming wide awake.

In this dream I could see hundreds of thumbnails pictures packed with memories, feelings, emotions, and connections. There were photos of those I’ve collided and connected with at various milestone events. They were images of both those who are alive, and those who had passed. The emotion for me was powerful.

One key thumbnail picture that kept resurfacing was of my father. My dad, Arthur Gustavson, was someone who left life way too soon. He had been a prostate cancer survivor who seemed to be in remission and in good health but was quickly overtaken the last few months of his life with the combination of celiac disease, and pancreatic cancer.

There was a correlation with the song for which the movie was based that I never saw coming. Bart Millard, the front man for Mercy Me, wrote the hit song after he had lost his father. His dad’s name was Arthur too. And like my dad, Bart’s father died also of cancer. I had heard the song a thousand times, but I didn’t know the story that inspired the song until I watched the movie.

As you can imagine, I was reminded of my own father. I began to picture my dad’s entry into heaven. I began to imagine the people he encountered and saw for the first time in his new Home. And, even though he was physically far from me -- him in heaven and me on earth, I could feel a metaphysical connection with him. I felt his presence. I felt his touch. Then I heard three words quietly echo in my mind. “Make It Count.” It was if he was whispering to me.

New Found Belief

Those words “Make It Count” hold power. In that moment, I looked around in my awakened dream to see all the other thumbnails and connections. I realize they all count. Every collision with every person in this life matters.

It was in that moment I asked myself a question, “How did I become so numb in my life to forget all those connections and the connections that I still need to make?”

We can become so trapped in our own cocoon of busyness and success that we forget about the real world around us.  It's  about the connections. I think there are others like me. Others who are subconsciously hoping to be metamorphosed out of our hell of busyness and catapulted into a place of heaven-like peace.

We want to have a taste of heaven on earth, but for most us we think that day won’t be experienced until our number is up and our name is called. But if heaven is our model, shouldn’t we aspire for it now? If heaven is about connections, then why do we need to wait?

Interestingly, a cocoon for a butterfly is made of a casing of spun silk. It’s meant to protect the caterpillar while it’s being transformed. Cocoons for us are a little bit different though. You see the butterfly wants out of the cocoon. Whereas we tend to not want to leave our cocoons. Also, transformation doesn’t really happen in our cocoon, it happens once we are outside of it. Only when we experience life do we undergo true transformation.

Life is meant to count. Life is meant to be pursued by making connections. It’s through connections we can experience a taste of heaven on earth. Each of us have an opportunity to make it count!


Like Neo in the Matrix, which is from another classic movie, I felt like I came alive out of my cocoon and finally could see life for what it really is and is meant to be! It’s in this moment I feel a reconnection to who I am. I feel a sense of restoration.

It’s amazing to me that a movie about a story of tragedy, that was reconciled through “connection” with a father, which then birthed a transformational song, can have such a profound impact. I can only hope that others experience this awakening too, and that we see – no -- seize the opportunity we have to make it count in the connections we are given.

Imagine for a moment the impact that would make. What if every person strived to be more aware of the connections that they have? What do you think the impact would be? Wouldn’t heaven feel just a little closer?

We really do need to make it count! Eternity is dependent on it.

Author’s Note

After watching the movie, I went back and searched for the original music video of the song. I wanted to see if it also revealed the story behind the song -- like the movie. What I watched touched me again. In this video you see different people – real people -- holding empty picture frames. As the song progresses, you eventually see real photos in each picture frame. They all feature loved ones that have passed. Seeing this made my jaw drop. The music video was eerily similar to my awakened dream. It makes me wonder if our imagination is more connected to God than we realize. I do know this though, our faith is powerless without our imagination, but I’ll save that discussion for another day.


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