Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

When Dreams Die

My kids are on my mind a lot lately.

If my life were perfect, I would probably work part-time and devote so much more time to my kids. I would be the mom who is at every activity. I would be the mom with home-cooked meals every night. I would be the mom with fresh-baked cookies after school.

If my life were perfect, I would have put my kids in a private Christian school from the time they were little. I would spend hours praying for my kids, with my kids. I would commit myself to working with the youth at our church. I would be the sponsor the youth minister always knew he could count on.

If my life were perfect, I would never give my kids the left-overs. They would always get the best. We would spend countless hours every summer having fun, creating memories, finding creative ways to entertain ourselves. I would be the fun mom, always ready for an adventure.

But my life isn’t perfect.

I cooked a good meal last night. It’s probably the first real meal I’ve cooked in at least three weeks. We’ve kind of just been scrounging around, everyone finding something for themselves. Even last night, I was home from work late enough that we still didn’t sit down and eat together. My plate of chicken was being eaten faster than I could get it cooked.

I managed to take one day off this summer to spend with my kids. We went to Turner Falls, a beautiful area south of Oklahoma City where we hiked and played in the water. It was a great little get-away. But it was the only day I’ve been able to just play with my kids. The rest of my summer has been spent working.

My oldest moves to college in less than two weeks. Our year has been so chaotic and exhausting that it really hasn’t sunk in with me. I marched through his senior year like a zombie, watching all of the lasts slip through my hands without savoring them. I don’t think any of it has hit me yet.

My younger son stays so busy with his activities. I almost can’t keep up with him. We often seem to just pass in the night, with very few words spoken. It might be that the only words I speak are mom commands: “Clean your room.” “Mow the yard.” “Carry out the trash.” I long for real conversations with him.

My baby is struggling with school starting. She wants so badly to be in an environment where Christ is King, where she can be herself without fear of judgement. She wants to be in a place where she can let her true personality show without others making fun of her. I want to be able to make her dreams come true, to put her in that place where she feels safe.

I spend so much time working, cleaning, trying to keep all the plates spinning perfectly. I feel like life—my kids’ lives—are slipping away before my very eyes. The days of making memories are short as one is already out the door, the other two in high school.

And my heart breaks as I mourn the life I always dreamed of…

Most days, I love my life. I’m thankful for all the beauty, for all the ways we have been able to grow and learn throughout this life, even though it is nothing like what I dreamed. My kids are pretty independent and self-sufficient, a trait they had to learn because I just couldn’t do it all. My kids are so appreciative for all the things they have. They’ve learned gratitude and sacrifice as they’ve watched me work to provide for them. We have enjoyed watching God provide every day, looking back and seeing how God was silently working in the background to prepare the perfect alternative life for us.

We have enjoyed so much.

But I often feel robbed. Robbed of the opportunity to be available to my kids. Robbed of the opportunity to fulfill the dreams I always had of what my family would be like. Robbed of the opportunity to build a lifetime of memories of laughter and fun and vacations and time together.

I guess I’m struggling, mostly with sheer exhaustion and burn-out, wondering how to achieve balance in my life. I know the importance of balance, but it’s completely overwhelming. How do I work full-time and be the mom I want to be? How do I give time and attention to my husband the way I need to? How do I keep writing and fulfilling the calling God has placed on my life? How do I do it all?

I’m sure this is a common concern among our culture. It’s not just me. It’s all of us who work and have families and desire to be all God has called us to be. I wish there were easy answers for all of us. I wish this work of hoping in God so we can rise up on eagle’s wings, run and not grow weary was easier to implement in our lives. I wish I knew just how to take His yoke upon me knowing His yoke is easy and His burden is light. I know it’s there, it’s available, it’s promised by Him.

But finding it, making it a reality, often seems elusive.  

So what do we do when our dreams die, when the life we always dreamed is no longer a possibility? How do we reconcile the life we always wanted with the life that is a reality?

I’ll be totally honest. I don’t usually mourn the past any longer. I’m totally ok with the life God has given me, has given us. I’m overjoyed with the blessings in my life. I’m thankful for the amazing kids I have, the wonderful husband who is also an incredible father. I’m blessed with a wonderful place to live and a ministry bigger than anything I ever imagined.

But it’s those days I struggle with what I wanted for my life, for my kids, the dreams I had for them. And right now, I’m struggling to make peace with what is versus what I wanted.

Maybe you understand. Maybe you have ideas…ideas on how to be a full-time mom and a full-time employee. Maybe you have stumbled upon an incredible way to make your kids feel as important as they are in their heart. Maybe you have some simple ideas we could all implement. If so, I’d LOVE for you to share them with me.

For me, I started tonight. My daughter and I went out for a mommy-daughter date. Just a quick dinner for the two of us before church. Tomorrow, I drive my oldest to Dallas for a post-surgery check-up. While I hate the idea of six hours in the car, I love the thought of six hours with my son. Next, I need to make my incredibly busy younger son take an evening and spend an hour with me…an hour of just the two of us connecting.

I want to make it a regular event, just spending small amounts of uninterrupted time with each one individually. That’s my first objective.

I’ve been heavily focused on praying for them recently, too. Praying over every part of their lives. Praying for God to go before them and surround them. I’ve walked the college campus where my oldest one will soon be living, praying over this next chapter in his life.

I don’t know exactly where we go from here, but maybe if we start with small steps… With God, who knows where those small steps might lead. Who knows how He might take our broken dreams and make them beautiful…

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