If I had known what the next 23 years would hold I may not have been so confidently optimistic. It has been a sometimes rapturous, oftentimes agonizing odyssey. Marriage and parenthood have not been my ticket to “happily-ever-after.” Rather, they have been divine tools in the hand of a Ruthless Surgeon, scalpels that have exposed and extracted things slyly hidden behind a hallowed veneer of poise and composure. (Just so you know, this is not a minor surgical procedure.)

Over the years I’ve gone at least 15 rounds with the story of my past, working out my salvation with fear and trembling as I face things I hoped would miraculously disappear upon conversion. (Much like the Israelites in the wilderness, I have found this deliverance to be gradual, not instantaneous.) I have been a part of many church communities; some have profoundly blessed me, others have deeply wounded me, but all have shaped me. Finally – and perhaps most significantly – I have wrestled intensely with a God who has been merciful enough not to let me succeed in building the life I set out to.

Though I will admit that in some ways I know much less now than I did 23 years ago, one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that none of these things have looked like “the good life” when I was going through them. But I suspect that they more closely resemble “good” than anything I could have dreamed.

At the end of the day, I suspect that most American Dreams can be traced back to one universal thing: the hope that someday everything will finally be okay. It’s an understandable longing, as a yearning for Eden seems to be deeply fused into human DNA But we all know that the problem with wanting to live in a perfect world, of course, is that we don’t. Things will never be okay this side of heaven. I’ve known this in theory, but truth be told, even though I’m a follower of Christ I’ve spent plenty of time chasing a dream that has done little more than run me into the ground.

The ground is a popular place to learn that there’s an enormous difference between good living and living “the good life.” And as crazy as it may sound, perhaps it’s that hard-won knowledge that creeps up into my throat when I see a group of fresh, robust teens chasing a symbol of the American Dream onto a playing field. Many will be tackled, and an unfortunate few may even have to be carried off on a stretcher. Still, there’s glory in the game.

Laura Harris, a freelance writer/songwriter, wife and mother of three daughters, lives in Austin, Texas.