I’ve mentioned this before.
I do think it’s worth repeating.
I believe the secret to the dreaming life is knowing when to let go of a dream.
Here is what I have neglected to mention: that dream never really goes away. There are days when you see it back there in the past and you thank God your dream was never realized. But there are other days and other dreams. You look back at them and you ache for the younger you who poured so much of herself into that dream. You wonder, what was the point of all that effort? Was it for nothing?
All this makes you a little less eager to embrace new dreams.
I shared my story this week. I wrote it out: how God spoke to me and the language was my desire. But there is more. There is always more to our story while we are living it.
Here is Part Two: My dream came true (the dream I never could have imagined on my own), and it is good. But the old dream, the dream I willingly released, still comes creeping back. Some days, I look over my shoulder. I remember how in that dream I was called professor (not stay-at-home mom). In that dream I wore heels (not muddy garden boots). In that dream I had an easy answer to the question what do you do? In that dream I was admired, respected, and I stood at the front of the room.
Like many dreams, it was a muddy swirl of selfishness and altruism. Of wisdom and foolishness. Most days, I am relieved that I no longer keep office hours. No longer grade essays. However, there are days when I look at the interview jacket in my closet and wonder, with something that might be an ache, if I’ll ever wear it again.
I’m not sure I want to wear it again.
I haven’t given it away, either.
Old dreams are never fully discarded. There is no donations drop-box for the dreams we outgrow.
Standing in the doorway of my closet, fingering the polished fabric of that interview suit, I fear I am Lot’s wife. Will I, too, be punished for looking back?
That is a story I struggle to comprehend. It reads to me like something from the Greeks. Mortal women transformed into swans and trees and the shape-shifting gods who chase them. Certainly, the Bible is a strange collection of legend and history, myth and poetry, wisdom and epistle, but I believe it is God-breathed. Where is God’s life-giving breath in the story of Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt?
But Jesus says remember her and so I do (Luke 17:32). I remember her, and I remember that with the next breath he says whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and I remember that I have lived the truth of those words.
I remember how he lived them, too.
Maybe it isn’t a question of punishment but of choice. I can look back and cry my life away. I can squander these good days with endless longing and salty tears.
Or, I can listen. I can trust.
I can be grateful for memory. I can be grateful for the persistence of old dreams.
I can wake up every day eager to let it all go one more time, and one more time, because I know the only way to live is with empty arms.
You remind me of a passage from one of Buechner’s books where he describes driving to the base of the mountain on which he lives so he can meet his children as they get off the school bus. He describes the scene in glorious detail (per usual, for him) and then wraps it up in these words: ‘Not for keeps, to be sure, but at least for the time being, the world has given them back again, and whatever the world chooses to do later on, it can never so much as lay a hand on the having-beenness of this time.”
You are right. We can look back and cry our lives away – becoming a frozen statue of salty, bitter tears for whatever the future still holds – OR we can be thankful for the having-beenness of those moments and those dreams. And let that be enough.
Your honesty is refreshing and you write with just enough haunt to keep me coming back, friend. Thank you.
Kelli, I love this. Trust Buechner to express it so perfectly.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading your posts — they’re always a highlight of my day.
Sarah, that means so much to me! Thank you, friend.
Yep, I get this. I think the crying is part of the grief process that calls us into the future though. The grief that what we thought was good for us wasn’t in the cards of us at all. Grief that we had it wrong but there is only a tiny hint about what the future holds for us. Standing in the present and leaning into the joy and gratitude is what makes life in the here and now sweet. It’s always a letting go for me. Standing with empty arms and being comfortable in it I am finding is the best gift of all.
I think we look at the world through very similar lenses, Shelly. Yours words always call up the same response in me: “Yes.” Grateful for you!
Christie, I love reading your posts. And that picture of open-armed Lily is beautiful. She is simultaneously, exuberantly surrendered and victorious.
I really relate to this post…life is a slow and gradual education into surrendering and letting go. When I just had Joshua, my milk still hasn’t come in after day four and he had lost over two pounds since birth and as I sat and wept, I realized that I worked so hard on surrendering to my body during birth that I forgot that as soon as I gave birth, I had to surrender the child…that there is nothing that my expectations and plans can actually control. His health and life were completely in the hands of God.
And even career-wise, I think about the principalship and all those opportunities I gave up to have the pleasure of holding a crying baby and caring for a screaming toddler and I question myself. But I know that I wouldn’t go back and I’m reminded of that each time an opportunity to go back to FT work presents itself.
God is such an amazing, mysterious, paradoxical God. He works in those in between spaces between loss and gain, teaching us about the things we value most.
Thank you, Lina. Your realization after giving birth to Joshua? Wow. Just wow. And your words – “he works in those in between spaces between loss and gain” – yes, yes, yes. This is such a beautiful mystery to me.
Thank you for reading and for sharing your wisdom, Lina. I’m grateful!
Christie, one word: blessed. I dunno how you manage to write about my season even though we’re ages apart and realities apart.
Read this yesterday and as I was dicing meat, thought to send it over your way… Won’t say much else of it:
RT @BethMooreLPM: I’ve seen a pattern. God calls people, gives them vision, starts them on their way & just when it’s looking good, humbles & crumbles them.
RT @BethMooreLPM: After the divine humbling & crumbling, the called is sure he’s blown it & it’s over. He doesn’t realize that only now is he ready to serve
Beautiful words from Beth Moore! I’m so glad you shared them, Lilian. Thank you.
Loved Part 1, love part 2, too. The story of Lot’s wife is a troubling one on many levels. And it’s interesting to me that she becomes salt, all salt. Now salt, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, is it? In tiny doses, it’s a glorious thing. But an entire pillar? Maybe an occasional fingering of the fabric is like a little bit of salt to the dish, it brings out the flavor of where you are now. Then you shove it back into the closet, close the door and move into where you are now just a little bit more fully. (I also love the pictures of where you live – such glory there!) Thanks for your always good words, Christie.
I’m so glad you commented on this, Diana. It was at the back of my mind as I wrote, but I wasn’t sure how far to push the salt metaphor. But, you are exactly right. Salt, in small amounts, is a gift. But too much – well, it’s a disaster. A life lived with open arms but well seasoned with a few tears? That might be best. I love how you put it: “move into where you are now just a little bit more fully.” Beautiful. Inspiring. Thank you.
living with empty arms. A beautiful reminder, for if our arms are not empty, how can they be filled with God’s gifts?
Thank you Christie, for your wonderful writings.
Oh Christie. This resonates deep in my heart, I get this. And I am so grateful for your honesty, and willingness to share your story–your journey. I’ve got dreams hanging like ghosts in the corners of my heart, and while they were set aside for other really good things, sometimes, I see them in the shadows, and an ache rises. Then I feel guilt for still longing a bit for the things which God so clearly has said “not now” to. Because truthfully, my life is full and rich and abundance reigns here. …but the ache is real, and troublesome to me. I’m clearly still working all of this out, still walking through is all…. thank you for your words.
Christie, I have a similar story, leaving one life for a very different one. As much as I’ve loved the road I’m on, over the years I’ve wondered about what might have been. But we need empty arms to fully embrace, and I know I made the right choice.
Bridget, I love knowing I’m not the only one.
Thank you for this post. I also have a PhD in literature, and while I’ve willingly given up the dream of being a professor, I haven’t found anything new to look forward to yet. And the sadness from losing the old dream revisits me often. Reading your words, I feel less alone.
And, having read your comment, I feel the same, Allison. Thank you so much.