A few weeks ago, as we were leaving the conference, Marilyn asked Amy to make sure I never lost my “bright eyes” and always remained “her bright eyed baby”. She means “baby” in the way every girl still wants to be a little girl and dream big dreams.
I find the most beauty in bright eyed babies who aren’t bright-eyed with naivete, but who’ve remained bright-eyed in the face of adversity.
This evening, my housemate had a small potluck gathering of women and their children. Hers included there were 4 women and seven children. One thread ties this little nest together, they are domestic violence survivors. Just being in the same house as them, hearing and participating in some conversations, my mind was stimulated and impressed from the calm wisdom in each of these women. They are survivors, no other word really captures this.
I imagine the final grief in the end of these marriages is really the loss of a dream, because the loss of a loved one must have occurred far before they ever left the abuser. I am not really sure of this, but maybe deep down they knew love wasn’t supposed to hurt, but maybe they grew up with that kind of pain and so it seemed familiar.
Sometimes I am discouraged that loss doesn’t kill your dreams. This sounds sick I realize, but what I mean is that you would learn your lesson and adjust your level of hoping. Childhood taught me that there might just be too many people in the world for God to make the dreams come true of every one, and I was just in the latter camp. That God was just too busy with the million others to call me “special” and make my dreamings come alive. I just wanted to be “special”, so when Marilyn says I am a bright-eyed sweet baby, you can’t help but feel special. My grown up heart knows a life without hope is no life at all. It is the fragile little girl heart that sometimes wants to be put out of its misery.
The death of dreams ache like nothing else. As a little girl, my reality taught me that the world was not safe to dream, yet despite every intention, I am a big-picture girl. My mind relishes theories over facts and big-picture planning of the future gets me excited. I am by nature a connector, a marketer, a networker, a social butterly. I love pop-culture trends and patterns because I want to be in that industry as an actress, and see marketing as a handy trait for branding oneself, which any famous actress typically has a persona that is semi-marketed. Yet I doubt they will tell you that, because it’s really their entourage that does a lot of that for them. I am also an aspiring and sometimes professional actress and writer, thus my life in the fine and performing arts lends to being a natural storyteller. I love interpersonal dynamics, which is why I so enjoy analyzing a script and a character in tv and film.
I have always been kinda clever, sassy and savvy, the childhood literary characters I most related with as a child were Orphan Annie, Matilda (by Roald Dahl) and Plum from Nancy and Plum (by Betty MacDonald)–if this gives you any indication of my inner and outer world.
All to say, the death of a dream is probably what makes my heart ache and cringe most, right next to the loss of a loved one.
When A Dream Dies
By: Nicole Johnson (www.freshbrewedlife.com)
She swallowed hard as the doctor looked over her chart shaking his head. “There are things we can do to try to intervene here Jennifer, but I don’t think you’ll ever be able to carry a child of your own…” his voice trailed off into nothingness as the reality of his words made the room start to spin.“I’d be happy to make up the time once my son is in better health,” she offered hopefully. But the face across the desk didn’t share the hope. “I’m sorry Cathy, it just isn’t going to be best for the company for you to work here anymore. We’ve had a great ten years together, but it is time for us all to do something different.”
A sleepless night and the cold remains of their bitter argument still echoing in her head did nothing to make the morning any better than the night before. Jack had been resolute. He wanted a divorce. Their twelve-year marriage was over just like that. Overwhelming sadness made Sandra feel sick to her stomach and she hoped she would make it to the bathroom in time…
The stories above highlight one of the most painful realities in life: not death itself, but the death of a dream. Some have speculated that death to be equal to or worse than a physical death or loss. When my own marriage of 14 years ended in divorce seven years ago, my dream of having a life-long, committed marriage came to an end. And there were days I not only thought I might die, there were several days that I wanted to.
We were made to dream. It’s a vital part of who we are… dreams keep us focusing on what’s ahead of us, they keep us in touch with our deeper yearnings and longings—all of which matter a great deal to our hearts and souls. So what happens to us when a dream dies? When something we have hoped for our whole lives is ultimately closed to us as in the stories mentioned above?
We must acknowledge the importance of such dreams in order to grieve the loss of them. When a dream dies, we ache. When anything we love dies, there is loss and sadness, and those feelings are right and normal. The worst thing we can do is try and sweep our broken dreams under a rug of pretense that they didn’t really matter to us in the first place. Or try to cover over our feelings of loss with some sort of false piety telling those around us, “The Lord knows what he’s doing,” as though it doesn’t matter to us one way or the other. There is great danger in saying words that we think will sound right to others when we don’t really trust them in our hearts.
In my case, as a child of divorce, having a great marriage had been a life-long dream. The saddest reality was that I didn’t have it—but acknowledging that my marriage was over was to admit that that dream would never come to pass. That hurt almost as much as the loss of my marriage. Both had to be grieved.
Secondly, it is a wise choice to not give bitterness and anger a foothold. These feelings are simply not worth what they cost us on the inside. They are drops of poison in the well of our hearts. We are dreamers, but we are not our dreams. This is a critical distinction. Our dreams are an important part of us, but they are only a part. When a dream dies, it is our responsibility to make sure our heart doesn’t die right along with it. That one choice would change the rest of our lives far more than losing a dream. We’ll have more dreams. In fact, if we’re really living we can’t stop new dreams from forming in our minds and hearts. But if we began to believe that because one dream died, then all our dreams will die—that would be the greatest tragedy of all.
After my divorce, a big internal challenge I faced was not becoming cynical and bitter toward men, or even toward others who were living their dream of a great marriage. I wanted to keep my heart set on the importance of that dream even though for me it had not been a reality. But as many of you know from your own personal experiences, such a process while worth it is not easy.
And lastly, with time, give yourself permission to dream again. And if you can’t do that just yet, don’t worry—just try to be open to staying open. For some couples who have walked the lonely road of infertility, God brings a new dream of adoption. Many women who have lost jobs have found better and more fulfilling work later in their lives. We don’t start there in our thinking or move to hoping for the “big ending” while we’re facing the loss of a dream, but we can be encouraged by the fact that sometimes a dream will come around again in a different form and we must keep our hearts open or we might miss it. As much as we might want to, we just can’t see what lies ahead.
And in my story, seven years has brought quite a few changes that I could never have seen. A year and a half ago I remarried a wonderful man. In May we welcomed our son, Elliot Asher Newman, into our family. It just isn’t possible that I could have seen or believed this when my marriage ended and I thought my life was over. Not only did I NOT have faith to believe it, I didn’t even have the strength to hope for it.
Knowing that our dreams matter and understanding that, as painful as it may be, sometimes doors close to us, try to hold these thoughts in your heart if you are facing the death of a dream:
1. Acknowledge the importance of your dream so you can fully grieve the loss.
2. Be aware that bitterness and anger only numb pain, they do not heal it.
3. With time, give yourself permission to dream again.
Never forget that we are in process on this journey and while we don’t know what the future holds, we trust God for very good reasons, and those reasons are still true in the midst of our losses. God has a way, uniquely his, and a time table, unknown to us, and he has great love that guides us toward bigger dreams, the kind that will never disappoint and never die.