“Have you ever had a dream God planted in your heart that you could not eradicate?” the pastor said tenderly to the congregation yesterday. Immediately, tears pooled in my eyes. Oh gosh, I thought, I’m gonna need a whole box of tissues.
We hadn’t been to church in months, but there we were yesterday, in a new congregation to support some friends who were making big commitments.
It’s weird for me to not go to church. As a child we were going every Sunday unless we had a fever or were vomiting. Not going was not an option. So, it’s very bizarre to be in a season where we don’t go regularly. I know it won’t last forever, but right now the grief is plunging to new depths, and I just don’t have the energy for polite conversation with acquaintances. Oh, and I’m mad at God.
It appears He has shattered my dreams and hopes for my life, and I have nothing to say to Him right now.
But apparently, He had something to say to me, because He found me in the pew of a random church yesterday.
Since I was a young girl, I wanted one thing: to get married and have biological babies. It’s probably because I had an incredible mother who was kind and tender and funny. It’s probably because I am the oldest of four daughters, so I’ve been mothering since my first sister was born when I was three. And it’s probably because all of my sisters and I look exactly like our mother – there is no doubt that The McCracken Girls share genetic material.
And until recently, I didn’t realize how an enormous part of my identity was wrapped around being a blond-haired, blue-eyed, big-smiled McCracken Girl. I really like it when strangers ask me, “Are you a McCracken?” simply because of the way I look. That’s my tribe! That’s where I belong. It’s safe.
And I really wanted my own little tribe of McCracken-Monroe babies. More than anything. To me, it was the Ultimate.
But on September 24th, the doctors told us our son, Tage, would not live long. Then, on that same day, they told us that his disease was genetic, and that if Josh and I had more biological kids, each child would have a 25 percent chance of having this deadly disease, too. Twenty-five percent is not big when it comes to weather, but it’s catastrophic when it comes to losing your children.
And just like that, my dreams of being a mom were shattered. We knew there were other options for having a family, but none of them were part of The Plan. I didn’t want any other options.
Lord, how could You give me this dream of being a mom just to take it away? I’ve prayed recently. It all just seems so cruel. How am I supposed to keep living without this thing my heart yearns for with such a deep ache? I can’t imagine living 60 more years without children. Please don’t make me do that! As the days of grief linger on, I find it difficult to have hope when I look to a future in which my son is gone and I am never pregnant again. God, this isn’t fair! You’ve already taken so much, and it doesn’t feel like you’re coming through on your end of the bargain. What are you doing?!
The Bible is full of the history of people who’ve had their dreams shattered. As the pastor shared yesterday, Joseph dreamt of being a ruler, but was sold into slavery and then put in jail after Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of sleeping with her. It hit me that all this happened over a period of YEARS. I can read it all in two minutes, but Joseph LIVED his broken dreams for years until God changed his circumstances and made good come from it (like a saving-his-whole-family-and-nation-from-famine-and-drought kind of good). And by the time Joseph’s dream came true, he was more concerned about God’s honor than his own.
David had a dream of building the Temple. God said “yes” to the dream, but “no” to it happening in David’s lifetime. Still, David gave much of his time and money to the cause, even drawing up blueprints for it. Yet, the dream never happened in his lifetime.
Despite their deferred dreams, both men continued to live faithfully to God. And God blessed them for it. Their lives were powerful and influential.
I have had a firm grip on the dream of biological children. I’ve gripped it so hard my knuckles are white. I cry when I think that God wants me to release that dream to Him, because I want to keep clinging to it. Yet, I can tell you that it has been emotionally and physically exhausting to keep gripping and fighting it. I would love to be rid of the burden of it. It consumes my thoughts.
I know the Lord is asking me to let go of this grip I have and to trust that He knows my dreams because He placed those dreams in me. And I am aware that this dream dances on the line of becoming an idol in my life. Many days, I bow before the throne of Parenting, placing all my hope in it when I know that any god other than Jesus falls short.
“(I am) trusting in something that can give (me) no help at all. Yet (I) cannot bring (myself) to ask, ‘Is this thing, this idol that I’m (gripping so tightly) in my hand, a lie?” (Isaiah 44:20)
God made parents. God made children. He smiles when He sees loving families. But families, and money, and marriage, and status, and fancy things were never supposed to be made into the Ultimate. Only God can be that. Only God can give us the peace we so desperately search for in those other things. Including biological children.
So what do I do? All I can do is remember this: God knows my dream, and He LOVES me. He loves to care for and give good gifts to His children, just as Josh and I would have done anything for our Tage.
This is how God thinks of me and of you. Imagine the best father you know saying this to their child:
“But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. “ (Isaiah 43:1)
“I have created you and have cared for you since before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime – until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” (Isaiah 46:3-4)
“For the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on them in their sorrow. Yet Jerusalem says, ‘The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.’ But the Lord says, ‘Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on my hand!…Those who wait for me will never be put to shame.” (Isaiah 49:13-16, 23)
“I thought to myself, I would love to treat you as my own children! I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land—the finest inheritance in all the world. I looked forward to your calling me, ‘Father,’ and I thought you would never turn away from me again…My wayward children, come back to me, and I will heal your hearts.” (Jeremiah 3:19, 22)
What a tender God He is!
It is because of this tender, fatherly love, that I continue to trust Him. It is because of this love that I can say as David said:
“Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter; You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.” (Psalm 71:20-21)
I don’t know how many years it will take for me to see His plan in all of this, or if I will even get to see His plan this side of Heaven. And it’s hard. It’s hard to wait, wondering if I will ever feel joy again, wondering if this hole in my heart to be a mother will ever be filled. But how can I not trust a God who loves me the way He does?
So, I wake up every day and I make a choice: Am I going to keep white-knuckling this dream the way I think it should play out, or am I going to release my grip so that my loving God can do what He wants with my dream? Yes, He could take from my open hand, but He could also put things there I’d never even dreamed of.
This is not for sissies, you guys. It’s way easier said than done, and it’s a process. Releasing our dreams to God is not a one-and-done kind of prayer. For me right now, it’s a many times a day kind of prayer as I go to a job that doesn’t include taking care of Tage, when I see pictures of people living “my dream” on Facebook but have no idea what our future looks like, and when the ache for our boy consumes me. Lord, help me know that You’ve still got this.
I believe someday I will say that I have completely let go of – with all five fingers – the consuming grip on this dream, but honestly, today is a two-finger-grip kind of day. And that’s progress.
And for the rest of the grip, I continue to pray:
Lord, I don’t want to let go of this. I know You planted the dream in me, and I have created the avenue by which I thought the dream would come true. It seemed like such a great plan for my life, and I’m having a really, really hard time letting it go. Tears come to my eyes at the thought of handing it over to You. Clearly, I can’t let it go on my own accord. I need Your help, Your power, and Your peace if you want me to trust You with this, and I do want to trust You with it. Lord, help me to still give my best even in the midst of these painful circumstances. I don’t want to just wait for this season to pass. I want to thrive in the midst of it. You delight in helping Your people produce fruit in the midst of a drought. Do it in me, God! I know my heart prays, “God, help me reach my dream,” but I want it to be, “God, help me reach Your dream.” Will you work in my heart, Lord, until it’s fully surrendered to You? You are a good and loving God. May all the glory and honor be Yours.
And I remember that this isn’t the first dream to be broken. Today would have been the 56th birthday of this wonderfully joyful and goofy woman, my mom:
She went to be with Jesus six years ago after a battle with cancer. (Happy Birthday, Mom! Cheers to you, you incredible woman! I bet Jesus gives the best birthday toasts.)
Today also marks three years since we felt the sting of a miscarriage. I remember the bleeding, the cramps, the grief, like it was yesterday.
Yet, in both of these situations God has restored me. He has gathered up the broken pieces and made something beautiful in me: more faith, more compassion, more gratitude.
So, I remember, and I pray, Do it again, God. Do it again.