Have you ever found yourself facing the unfulfilled end of a long-held, soul-rooted dream? That’s what I’ve been doing for the past year. Specifically, I’ve been wrestling with my unfulfilled dream to be a mom. It seems divinely appointed that I come to let this dream go during the season of Lent. I’m comforted in the fact that I am not the first one to make a difficult sacrifice.
There’s a lot of quiet in my life, especially in the evenings. I’m a homebody who doesn’t often fill my free hours with the noise and distraction of TV. The more quiet you allow in your life, it seems the less you are able to avoid what’s happening in your heart.
In my evenings this past year, I’ve faced the aching reality of the loss of my foster daughter, the disintegration of my hope to adopt, and with them, the collapse of my dream to be a mom. God, it’s been painful! And so important.
All the wrestling has allowed me to get to a place of resolution. I know I need to leave this dream behind, and I’m ready to, but it won’t be easy because wanting to be a mom is such a big, beautiful dream.
When I was a young girl thinking of my future, I always pictured myself as a mom. In fact, I never imagined a future in which mothering wasn’t a main feature of my story. If you asked me at ages 8, 11, and 14 what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you quite sincerely that I wanted to be a mom. That’s it. Just a mom.
Everything about me being a mom makes sense. Children delight me. How other people get embarrassingly enthusiastic about sports, gush over classic cars, or blather about their favorite video game — that’s how I get about spending time with kids.
Anytime I get to snuggle a baby, I call it therapy; it fills me to the brim with joy. One of my favorite activities is to read aloud to kids, especially if I can jazz up the stories with fun accents. When I was a pastor at a large church, parents would often pass me their kids while they dashed off to use the restroom, grab coffee, or have adult conversation. Sure, it’s a sign that I’m trustworthy, but these parents also knew I would enjoy hanging out with their kids and would never find it an inconvenience.
I’ve been caring for other people’s kids since I was a kid. I was the youngest nursery worker at our church, drafted when I was just 11. In my early teen years, I spent more time minding the neighbor kids on weekends than their parents did.
Looking back at my life, I realize that I’ve been mothering all along. I care deeply for my nieces and nephews and for my friends’ kids. They all call me Aunt Coco.
It matters to me the kind of influence I have on the children in my life. The kind of love and affirmation I give them. The fact that I can teach them to laugh loudly, to be caring and empathetic, to be courageous and adventurous, and most of all, to be kind to themselves.
Yes, I was a foster mom — and that is being a mother in the fullest sense of the word — but it was temporary. I had hoped fostering would lead to adoption. For years, I made choices and sacrifices to make that dream a reality. Fostering exposed my depths and limitations, and taught me exactly what it takes to be a single parent of a child who has experienced trauma. I discovered that I don’t have the emotional reserves to do ministry professionally only to come home and do even more intense ministry at home. So, after a lot of prayer, reflection, and conversation with trusted friends, I’ve concluded that it’s best to turn away from this option.
“But Corrie,” you might say, “you aren’t decrepit! You are still young enough to have your own child.” And yes, while it’s technically true that I’m still of “childbearing age,” I’m also well into what they call “advanced maternal age,” which comes with its own catalog of risks. There’s no guarantee that I’ll marry, and even if I did, that my spouse would want kids, or that my reproductive system works. Sure, there are medically-assisted ways to become a mother, and paths to adoption other than the foster system, but those aren’t things I can or want to pursue.
Rejected options, dead ends, and diminishing paths brought me to a place of wrestling. I’ve asked myself, God, the world — what options remain? What more am I willing to give or to sacrifice to realize this dream? How far, and for how long, am I willing to stretch the endurance of my soul in pursuit of being a mom?
There is a cost to our souls when we pursue our dreams.
Think of athletes who, for years, train their bodies and minds toward the achievement of a big dream: complete a ultra-marathon, swim the English Channel, break a record, win a medal, summit Everest, be named among The Greats. Imagine all of the time, money, energy, and heart, not to mention the injuries and rehabilitation they likely put into reaching their goal. We understand that in order to reach these big dreams, training becomes their job, almost their whole lives.
Big life dreams can become too big, larger than life. Sometimes what they require of us becomes unsustainable and we crumble under the weight. Or, our dreams can grow too big too fast, spreading like weeds, choking the other sources of life that surround us. Dreams can deplete us. Constant striving, all this emphasis on pushing ourselves, can cause injury and damage to our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.
The danger of big dreams is that they can eclipse everything else about us. We can get lost in them.
If a dream, and your journey towards it, becomes your largest identity marker, what will you do after you’ve achieved your dream?
Or, what would happen if somehow your dream was suddenly taken away from you? Imagine there is some circumstance beyond your control and you can no longer go for your dream. What would you do then?
Reaching these craggy, shadowed places means grappling with these questions:
Who am I without this dream?
What will I suffer if I lose this dream?
How will I cope?
How will I grieve?
What will it look like to recover?
How will I rediscover who I am beyond my dream?
How will I detangle myself from its tentacles?
And once I do, will I like the me that remains?
There is a cost to our dreams.
I have a friend that got married much later in life. We lived in the same town for a few years when she was still single and I learned very quickly that her greatest dream was to be married. Wherever we went, whatever we were doing, she would talk about this dream.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get married and looking forward to married life, but I often felt a little concerned for her. When we would meet up to go out she would talk about how long it took her to choose her outfit or how presentable she was because, she would say, “you never know when and where you will meet your spouse.”
My friend lived with such laser-focused hope — she was so some-day-focused, so saturated by her dream — that she seemed to devalue herself in the present. She lived leaning forward, always in a state of wanting something else, wanting more, always waiting. She was waiting for marriage to fill out her life, to define or redefine her, but she didn’t seem to realize that she was already well-defined.
There is a cost to our dreams.
I’m grateful for my life as it is and as it has been. Frankly, it’s been downright gorgeous: a vibrantly bloomed garden of rich relationships and experiences. There is such deep value in being a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a friend, and a pastor. I am completely fulfilled by these things. I’m in no way less than, nor lacking in dignity or maturity, because I am unmarried and childless. I faced those demons of insecurity a decade ago. I just also hoped to have a child to call my own and to love for life.
Being a mother, getting delightfully messy in the art of mothering, is a dream I cherished for so long. But now, for my heart health, for the good of my soul — to live as fully and freely as possible into the me that I am right here and now — I need to let go of this dream.
I’ll keep mothering as Aunt Coco. I’ll keep rocking babies, reading stories, coloring with crayons, playing in parks, and showing up to soccer games. But to my dream to be mom, I’m saying goodbye. To this dream, I say:
You are a beautiful dream, so worthy of having been dreamed.
You made me a better person because, for years, you stretched me toward a very good thing. You helped me be optimistic as I imagined and believed that I would one day care for a child.
You taught me to be brave, because bravery is exactly what I needed to follow the call to foster as a single parent — a scary, and some would say, crazy idea. You taught me patience as I waited years before the time was right to foster. You taught me to pray boldly for a two bedroom home I could afford. Through that long-shot prayer, you showed me that miracles do happen; you expanded my faith. And for six months, you gave me a precious soul to nurture.
I gave you my whole heart, and I am so thankful I did.
But now, dear dream, I’m going to let you go. I set you aside with warm and sincere gratitude, so I can focus on being exactly who I am, as I am.
Thank you. You are good and you blessed me.
I read on a gardening website that dandelions, if left undisturbed, can grow roots 15 feet deep. I guess that’s why, when you yank them and only break their stems, a new flower sprouts quickly in the same place.
My hope to be a mom was rooted as deeply as a dandelion, but I want the freedom to plant something else in its place. So, I had to dig deep and extract this dream at its root.
I haven’t made this decision lightly, or as an escape from my pain. I’ve wrestled with it. I’ve waded through the pain to get to this place. I’ve cried confused tears, angry tears, and sorrowful tears. I’ve prayed confused, lamenting, and sorrowful prayers. All this has tumbled around in me and finally settled in my soul.
The pain, angst, and grief have loosened and fallen away. Now there is relief and a welcome peace. Yes, there’s still occasional sadness. There probably will be for years. But I imagine the sadness will fade and transform into a simple, cherished memory of a sweet dream.
I’m okay to let my dream go. I’m ready. I will be healthy and happy without being a mom the way that I hoped. I already am.
Now, my prayers have turned to hope for new, unimagined, good things.
Dandelions are prolific. It’s part of their design. They easily spread themselves around until they blanket our lawns with their cheerful yellow caps. But I think they are at their most beautiful when they’ve transformed into seed heads. One yellow flower can produce up to 170 seeds. Those delicate white parachutes gracefully dance away on the breeze, off to spread their cheer in new places. They fall on new ground, shoot out new roots, and spring up into new life.
Dreams, when given away, allow for the birth of new dreams. I look forward to my post-Lenten, spring bloom.