The Diner by the River

© Copyright 2011 by Joel R. Hall – All Rights Reserved

When I was around 35 years old, I went through a period of depression and anxiety, the source of which I could not identify. This went on for several months and made me, to say the least, rather unpleasant to be around. I prayed about this problem regularly and sought relief in meditating on His word, but felt like I was sinking ever deeper into despair. I came to a point where I had almost given up hope when the Spirit intervened by sending me a “God dream“. This is a description of that dream.

Most of this dream, I experienced in the first person. It wasn’t until the very end of the dream that I began to experience the dream-within-a-dream that typifies God dreams.

The dream began with my adult self driving around the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas in the VW bug that had served as my very first car. This was odd, because, in the dream, I was aware that I had sold that car long ago, and actually thought to myself how fun it was to be able to drive it again. I was driving North on Bizzell Street, but I wasn’t quite sure where I was going. In fact, I was quite lost and knew I was looking for something, but wasn’t exactly sure what, or where, it was. As I pulled up to the stop sign at New Main Drive, a voice from the passenger seat said to me, “Just keep going straight.”

It was odd, but part of me had known there was someone sitting there, and I even felt I should recognized the voice, but when I looked to my right, I found myself looking at a middle aged black man that I had never seen before in my life. There was something about him, however, that seemed so very familiar. I knew that I knew him, but just couldn’t reconcile that feeling with his face. He was looking back at me with a slight smile and pointing forward to indicate the direction I should go. As I pulled away from the stop sign, I asked  him, “Where are we going?”

“Don’t worry,” he replied. “We’ll be there soon.” He paused til we approached the next stop sign and then added, “Just turn to the right up here.”

Without further comment, I followed his directions. Something told me that I could trust him. We proceeded past the Zachery Engineering building on the left and then, at his indication, straight on through the light at University Drive onto College Avenue. Having grown up in College Station and having graduated as an Aggie engineer, this was an area of College Station with which I was very familiar, and so it was with great surprise that I noted that the expected landmarks along this stretch of College Avenue seemed to be entirely missing. There was no shopping center on the Northwest corner of University and College, nor apartments a bit further down on the East side of College.

We drove on until we were approaching the approximate location of the Hensel Park parking lot. There was indeed a gravel parking lot at that location, but it did not appear to be any longer associated with Hensel Park. As we approached, my passenger indicated I should pull in and park, which I did. The parking lot was fairly small – maybe able to hold two dozen cars – and surrounded by a diamond pattern woven wire mesh fence. On the East face of the Northeast corner of the parking lot there was a large, double wide, ranch-style gate of wrought iron with an arched top. The top consisted of three concentric arches, arranged vertically, each separated form the other by several inches, in which wrought iron letters spelled out a message. The letters between the top two arches spelled out “The Diner by the River” while the letters between the bottom two spelled out “So you can hear the water flow.” It was a very elaborate wrought iron ranch entry gate that looked as if it had once been quite beautiful, but which had been allowed to fall into rust and disrepair. The moment I laid eyes on it I felt a sense of recognition mixed with profound sorrow, although I could not remember where exactly I might have seen it before.

Without saying a word or pausing to look back, my companion walked straight through the gate. Automatically, I followed him and as I passed through the gate, found myself on a gravel path leading toward a bridge about 20 yards further on. This bridge spanned a ravine from which emanated the sound of swift water babbling somewhere below. Ever since we had left the campus, I had the feeling we were no longer in College Station but now I knew it without a doubt. Nothing here looked like College Station.

It was a very nice bridge, and unlike the gate it was well maintained. It had large, anchored pylons on either end to support a suspension bridge. The deck of the bridge consisted of slats of wood running from side to side supported by two cables strung from the base of the pylons. Two more cables ran from the tops of the pylons along the sides about 4 feet above the deck with diamond pattern woven wire mesh fencing joining the two cables to add support and act as a safety barrier.

To my surprise, I discovered that the bridge spanned a small ravine through which ran a beautiful, crystal clear river. If any doubt had remained before concerning our location, the sight of that crystal clear water would have totally dispelled it: we were most definitely not in College Station as the only clear water to be found there comes from the tap. While the sight of the clear water was a surprise, the rocks over which it flowed were an even greater surprise. I had never seen anything quite like them. They were an odd yellow hue, somewhere between the color of flint and gold, and were remarkably beautiful. I could barely take my eyes off of them as we crossed the bridge.

Once across, the gravel path resumed. After only a few feet, it plunged into a wood with  dense underbrush, primarily yaupon, which had overgrown the path so that we had to push branches aside to proceed. After only 10 yards or so the path emerged from the wood to reveal a fairly large clearing, in the middle of which stood an old, abandoned diner. I vaguely recognized the place from my early childhood, but didn’t remember the name of it or even where it was actually located, although I’m pretty sure it was somewhere in the Bryan / College Station area. At any rate, it now appeared in my dream as a derelict relic, long abandoned and partially collapsed.

My companion did not even hesitate. He strode up to the building and ascended the two concrete steps up to the concrete porch. I followed close behind with a growing sense of loss eating at my stomach. Nonetheless, I followed him in through the door.

As I entered, I was greeted with the musty smell of decay. There was a cashier’s stand immediately to the left with an ancient, rusted out cash register still mounted at the extreme left of the counter. The building had been L shaped with one leg running off to the left and the other proceeding directly ahead. A counter mirrored this L pattern with the longest branch along the leg directly ahead. The building truly was falling apart and the roof on the section ahead of us had collapsed, but the counter along with the stools that were mounted to the floor along it’s length were still intact. You could actually tell that the vinyl seat cushions had once been bright red, although now they were covered in dust and debris.

My companion stood to my left, quietly watching me. As I stood looking at the collapsed section of the building, I had a sudden flashback to an early childhood memory involving this diner. It was a memory of one of the happiest moments of my very young life. I couldn’t have been more than 4 years old at the time. At that point in my life, my father was a student in Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M. He had married my mother while still an undergraduate at A&M and by the time I, his third child, was born, he was all of 25 years old. Two years after my birth, he had enrolled in Vet School which kept him extremely busy. Consequently, I rarely got to spend much time one on one with him. This memory was, in fact, a shining and treasured jewel from the depths of my subconscious mind involving one of those rare one on one moments.

In my flashback, I could see myself seated on one of those stools right next to my father. For whatever reason, he had taken me, and only me, out for breakfast. He had ordered us “flapjacks” which I had just polished off. As I watched in the dream, I could see how happy and proud I had been on that occasion to be spending time with my dad with no other siblings around to steal his attention. I was on top of the world! I watched my younger self spinning around on the swiveling stool seat and smiling from ear to ear.

And then the memory faded, and I found myself standing once again in the hulk of the decaying diner, tears streaming down my face, trembling in grief. I looked over at my companion and he was crying also, as if he knew exactly what I had seen and what I was feeling. I’ll never forget the look of compassion on his face as he grieved for my grief.

I could stand no more and walked back out onto the porch, my companion close on my heals. To my surprise, a man was standing about 10 feet from the porch steps, looking Westward at the sunset. He was dressed like a workman in jeans, a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and work boots. His hair was brown and thick and was a bit long, worn in a “Prince Valiant” style. For some reason, I assumed he was the maintenance man for the diner and approached him.

As I drew near on his right, I said, “What happened here?”

I wanted to know why the diner had been abandoned and allowed to collapse, but instead of answering me, he simply said “Follow me” as he turned and walked back along the gravel path toward the river. I walked along behind him wondering who he was and why he wanted me to follow him. Soon, we were back to the bridge and once again, I was entranced by the beauty of the river and the rocks.

As soon as we had crossed the bridge, the workman stopped and turned toward me, which allowed me to catch up to him. For the first time, I approached him from the front. The first thing that caught my eye, even before I looked at his face, was a disk he wore on a chain around his neck. The disk was perfectly round, about the size of a sand dollar, and appeared to be made out of the same rocks which lined the beautiful river which rushed by just feet away. I was captivated by the sight of it and looked closely at it. The disk was perfectly smooth except for one small groove etched near the entire right edge of the disk. To be clear, if it had been a clock face, the etching would have run clockwise from 12 to 6. There was something evocative and extremely powerful about this disk. It was beautiful in a strikingly simple manner. I could hardly tear my eyes from it.I pointed at it and asked “Where did you get this?”

What happened next is very hard to explain accurately. Everything seemed to happen at once and even I am not sure of the exact sequence of events, but I’ll do the best I can to explain what I experienced.

As I finished the question, I looked up at the man’s face for the first time, looking for answers. When I did, I very briefly saw a face with a thick, dark beard, thick dark eyebrows, a dark complexion, a somewhat large nose, and brown eyes. The moment I looked at his eyes, however, everything changed. In that instant, I suddenly “fell” into his pupils. That’s the only way I can describe what happened. It felt like I was falling and as I fell, his pupils expanded rapidly until I fell right through them and into what can only be described as outer space. I could see the universe, filled with stars, spread out before me.

Right as the stars appeared before me, two things happened in quick succession. First, my consciousness split into an observing self which was now consciously watching the remnant of the dream, fully aware that it was a dream within a dream, and a self still involved in the ongoing dream, falling into the universe and totally unaware of being observed. Second, I heard his reply to my question about the disk.

In reply, he simply said “Do you know, when you reach to the bottom of the river, this is what you find.”

At this point, the dream within a dream ended, leaving my observer self aware that I was dreaming and struggling toward consciousness. At that point, as always happens in God dreams, information starting pouring into my brain like a flood. Whenever this happens, it is impossible to assign any sequence to the arrival of the information as it all seems to flood in at approximately the same time. Consequently, allow me to simply list the information that I received in no particular order:

  • Driving North on Bizzel at the beginning of the dream was symbolic of my journey from childhood, living on the South side of campus, to adulthood, studying on the North side of campus at the Zachery Engineering building.
  • Leaving the campus toward Hensel Park was symbolic of returning to a place dear to me in my childhood in order to discover the source of my grief.
  • The gate was the entrance to my lost childhood memory.
  • The river was the river of life.
  • The bridge was a time bridge to the site of my most glorious and painful memory of childhood.
  • The overgrown woods represented the barriers I had erected around both this memory and the pain of my collapsed relationship with my father.
  • The diner represented my relationship with my father which, in his busy-ness, without being aware of it, and surely not meaning to, he had failed to maintain.
  • The partially collapsed roof represented the damage done to my sense of self worth.
  • My companion was my angel. He did indeed know exactly what I had remembered and could feel my grief.
  • The maintenance man was Yeshua, who had come to repair the damage, and to impress upon me the need to maintain the relationships in my life.
  • The pendant disk represented me, but not just me. In the broader sense it represents every child of God. It was indeed plucked from the bottom of the river of life, rescued by the maintenance man, etched by his finger, strung upon a chain of gold, for it is precious to Him – more precious than the gold chain – and worn next to his heart. This was the whole purpose of the dream: for Him to reveal His love for me and for us all. Only by knowing the depths of His love for me could I overcome the well of grief and sorrow, the sense of worthlessness and despair, that had been dragging me ever downward toward hopelessness. It was very humbling to realize that He felt that way about me, for I am quite sure that I was indeed plucked from the very bottom of the river.
  • Falling into his eyes to find the universe is a sign of recognition for me since it was a sense of falling off the planet into the universe that first introduced me to Him at the age of 16.

And then I awoke at 5:30 A.M. I flew out of bed like I had been fired out of a cannon, my heart and mind racing, and the floodgates of my grief about to burst. Not wanting to disturb my wife, I dashed into the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and cried… and cried… and cried. For three hours I cried. I simply could not stop. All the pain of all the years of self doubt and feelings of worthlessness came pouring out in racking sobs. The bleak sadness of realizing just how much I had missed out on with my father almost overwhelmed me. Even the realization of the tremendous love He, most glorious Yeshua, feels for me just added to my tears, although, these were healing tears. Even today, as I was writing this down, I cried. This dream ripped me open and turned me inside out, and yet it was exactly what I needed in order to not only start becoming whole in Him, but so that I could also begin to rebuild my relationship with my father. The old diner had to be torn down so that a new one could be built in its place.

There was one last thing He placed into my mind in the aftermath of my awakening. While I sat pouring out the last of my grief before Him, as that grief had begun to wane and be replaced by the humbling sense of joy at the intensity of His love for me, He gently placed a song in my heart. You might say that He provided me with a vital relationship maintenance tool to help me in dealing with my own two sons. The words of the song are as follows (you can hear it here):

You are my treasure,
my gift that never grows old.
You are my treasure,
more precious than silver or gold.

Every night after that, when I would put my boys to bed, I would sing them that song. Never could I bear to think that I might fail to maintain those relationships. I most certainly have not been a perfect father, but one thing my boys have never had reason to doubt is that their daddy loves and treasures them. I did and I do and I always will.

Shalom, treasured ones. He wears you next to His heart.

© Copyright 2011 by Joel R. Hall – All Rights Reserved

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About Joel Hall

Onward through the fog!
This entry was posted in Affidavit, Autobiography, God Dream, Spiritual Living and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Diner by the River

  1. Joel Hall says:

    I want to make it clear that this post is not intended to imply that my father did not love me or that he did not try to show me love. It is more about the impression left on a very small boy by the realities of the situation at that time. I love my dad and he and I now have a very good relationship. I am proud of him for the journey he has endured to make it to where he is in life right now.

  2. Pat Cegan says:

    Your dream is a stunning gift. What a gift you were given. Thank you for sharing it. It seems inappropriate to say more, just a simple, “thank you!”

  3. Pingback: The Evidence of Things Unseen | Joel Hall: Simply Put

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