FAREWELL TO A DREAM
In times of loss and disappointment, turn to God and embrace His bounty.
When I’m deciding whether or not to read a book, I’ll often read the last page. I want to see if it intrigues me. If I read the book, I have fun figuring out how the plot will carry me to that last page. It’s peeking, but it’s fun. And if I like the last page, I will usually like the whole book.
My favorite authors of fiction provide engaging and complex characters with whom I can usually somehow relate. They describe a setting that can take me to a place I’ve never been, or help me see a familiar place with fresh eyes. And they pull me into a story that hopefully captures my heart, stimulates my mind, and pricks my spirit. Of course, many of these stories contain unexpected twists and turns that can sometimes be devastating for the characters through which I’m living vicariously.
I often think of life in terms of story. I believe my life is one small story within the meta-narrative God has created for this world and for us, the people He created. I believe this is true of all our lives, all our stories.
Sharing our stories can be fun and entertaining. It can also be difficult and emotionally draining. For in sharing our own stories, we are providing more than an imaginative experience. Rather than plot-twists formed by words on a page, these are life-altering circumstances that hit us right where we live, literally. Many of these transformative moments are good—an unexpected romance, a well-earned job promotion, a new life coming into the world.
But some of them are gut-wrenching—an unexpected death, consequences you didn’t earn but have to endure, finding out you’ll never know what it’s like to bring a new life into the world. These are all parts of our stories that we walk through in real ways, every day. There’s no putting down the book while we take a breath and decompress. There are no red-pen edits or editorial re-writes. There is simply life. And we have to live it . . . we get to live it.
I’m writing today from within one of these plot twists and learning as I go. In the story God has written for me, I’ve spent many years devoting time to learning, teaching, ministering, and developing my career. I always knew that one day, when it was right, I would get married. But I was not in a big hurry. In God’s timing, He did cross my path with the right man to whom I have been married for four years and I’ve had the privilege to be a stepmom to his teenaged son. It’s been an awesome adventure so far. But adventures often include challenges, and our story is no different.
When Life Was Interrupted
In addition to always “knowing” I would get married one day, I always thought I “knew” that eventually I would have children.
Children have always been a part of my life. Nephews began to arrive when I was ten; I started babysitting when I was in seventh grade. I continued to care for one little girl until I was in college. She was precious and I took her everywhere with me for years. During college and graduate school, among other jobs, I worked as a nanny for a few families. While pursuing academic degrees, I also always worked in pre-school and children’s ministries, and interned at a Christian school. In all aspects of my life, children have always played a big role. I get to be the fun “Aunt Dawn” to so many nephews and nieces, and to many others who are not related by blood but are as close as family. Always being the favorite babysitter for my friends, having a nurturing spirit, and naturally embracing the role of stepmom seemed like more evidence that one day I would see that positive sign on a pregnancy test; that one day I would see and hear a little boy or girl with my husband’s big blue eyes look up at me and say, “I love you, Mommy.”
I was never in a hurry to make that vision reality, as it seemed a given it would eventually happen. But the clarity of that vision began to fade beneath the loud tick-tock of my biological clock and the heavy weight of the words, “There are problems.” Why this plot twist? Why now? Why me?
How many times do we ask ourselves these questions? At challenging moments, it is human nature to look around at others and their seemingly perfect Facebook-photo lives and ask, “Why me?” This is nothing new. In John 21, Peter finds himself in the same boat. He is speaking with the resurrected Jesus and has just been told what his perilous future will be. Then Jesus tells Peter, “Follow Me.” Peter’s response? He immediately turns around to look at John who is following them, and asks Jesus, “What about him?” He has just had this major moment with Jesus, actually looking the Lord in the face, and his first instinct is to turn and compare his story to John’s. But Jesus gives him a simple yet profound answer—John’s story is not his concern. His concern should be to follow Jesus with his life. Jesus knew John and Peter inside and out, just like He knows all of us. He knew the story arc for each of their lives. John trying to pursue Peter’s story or Peter trying to pursue John’s story would have been the pinnacle of foolishness. It’s the same for each of us. Our stories are unique and there is no sense in comparing.
He Was Still There
So I find myself at a transformative, and somewhat cataclysmic, moment. There is something big going on here and I want so badly to read the last page of this chapter and figure out how the Author is going to get me there! But it doesn’t work that way. I don’t know what is going to happen next. Might there be a miraculous healing that leads to an unexpected birth? Might there be a beautiful adoption story? Might there be a journey of medical treatments? I don’t know. I have an inkling, but this story is still in progress.
I can’t look ahead in this story, but I can look back. And looking back, I see a pattern of unexpected turns and moments in which I had no idea what was coming next. At times, I actually relished that feeling—not knowing what was ahead. Would the next chapter include gorgeous mountaintop sunrises or a valley of challenges? How would what God had been teaching me be put to use in the next phase of my life? There was a delicious anticipation for what would come next. But now, when I think of never getting to meet my own little girl or little boy, the future appears much more challenging. However, looking back reminds me that the Lord is faithful.
When I was a young girl encountering my first disappointment, He was there. When I felt the angst that so easily encumbers a teen’s life, He was there. When I had to give up an activity I loved due to an injury, He was there. When I was injured in a car accident, He was there. When I felt the sting of betrayal from a close friend, He was there. When I lost loved one after loved one, He was there. When I was facing an unknown future, deciding which direction to choose, He was there. When I was working multiple jobs and taking a full course load of graduate classes, He was there. When I faced heartache and heartbreak, He was there. When I cried myself to sleep at night, He was there. When I was in danger because of circumstances beyond my control, He was there. When I chose career paths completely opposite of what everyone expected, He was there. When I was given the responsibility of becoming a stepmother to a teenager, He was there. When I faced fears and failures, He was there.
He isn’t just an uninvolved author, penning the words of my life. He is living the chapters of my life with me. He has walked with me through each page; He walks with me still. I learn more about Him through every twist and every turn. And in the moments when I choose to do what Jesus told Peter to do in John 21—when I refuse to get caught in the comparison game and instead focus on following Jesus—He reveals a new perspective to me. He begins to show me abundance where I just saw barrenness. He shows me that all the children in my life now are there for a reason. Nurturing them, giggling with them, teaching them isn’t just practice for a child of my own, or salt in my emotional wound. When my great-nephew painstakingly prepares puzzles, DVDs, coloring books, and LEGOs, then says, “Aunt Dawn, it’s time for our time,” that’s not a placeholder until I have my own children. These are God’s gift for today.
Called to Accomplish God-sized Things
God can use me to make a difference in all these lives, and can use these precious ones to enrich my life as well. A situation that could have caused division in my marriage has actually brought us closer together. This situation has caused us to see how many children there are who need a forever family and reminded us of the honor and responsibility we’ve been given to raise my stepson. We have seen how God is calling us to accomplish some things for Him right now that we simply would not have the time, energy, or capacity to do if parenting small children were also on our plate. In short, I am starting to see that the story God has written for me is no less important or valuable just because the cast of characters is different than I expected.
Saying farewell to this dream, at least for now, also opens me up to seeing possibilities I otherwise may have missed. Yes, farewell hurts. Yes, we must grieve, for we lost what we thought would be. But our story continues. God is always up to something—always providing life . . . vibrant, abundant life. It doesn’t always look the way we expect it to look. But it is always right, because it is from Him. I grieve, but I also am beginning to feel a hint of anticipation. Life is going to look different than I expected, but through the disappointment, I can feel a little twinge of excitement. I’m ready to see how I’m going to get to the last page of this chapter.
Dawn Sherill-Porter lives in western Kentucky with her husband, Kyle, and an assortment of cows, chickens, and dogs; and she and Kyle are actively involved with their church, Creswell Baptist. Dawn is a huge sports fan, especially Kentucky Wildcats basketball. In addition to sports, she also enjoys reading, swimming, playing games, watching movies, and spending time in nature and with her family.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (September 2016). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.