The sun danced with a tangerine-skirted cloud against a peach and periwinkle sky. A fire blazed between us, warming our still-bare toes against the growing chill of the mountain air. It was July, and my best friend and I stole away for one night to make sure we didn’t go another summer without camping together.
We lost the week’s stress in fits of laughter and found old threads of our stories in questions ranging from silly to serious traded across the loom of the night. And, as usual, the best questions came from Mish:
“Would you rather leave Cheeto dust everywhere all the time OR have everything you eat taste like licorice forever?”
“What is the moment you became an adult?”
“What’s the first time you can remember choosing having a good life over being seen as good enough?”
I can’t remember if that was Mish’s exact prompt, but I do remember the way her curiosity curled like a question mark, guiding me to a disconnected dot in my story — to the day my first big dream died.
I had two loves in childhood: books and sports. Books were my safest place as a kid. Stories were my safe haven in the shouting matches that were the soundtrack to so much of my childhood. But sports — sports, were one place I felt seen.
Sweat, fight, and hustle were the ingredients of intimacy in my family. My dad was once a semi-professional hockey player, and the ice or pitch were places I knew I could make my parents proud. Sports gave me an arena for the attention and affirmation that often went missing under the burden of other needs in my family.
My dream in high school was to get a college soccer scholarship. I came to soccer late, after spending my earliest years on the ice learning salchows and axels, spiraling in sequins that didn’t exactly fit my personality. I made up for all the AYSO games my peers played, slide tackling my way into more yellow cards than were necessary and hustling on multiple teams through the months of both snow and sweat and everything in between to earn the dream.
So many of our dreams sprout in the soil of our good and real need to be seen.
And this dream shot right up. After a summer practically spanking myself with daily training following the US Women’s Olympic Team’s regimen, I arrived at my small Christian college eager to prove my pennies were worth the school’s investment in my scholarship . . . and ready to make my parents the proudest.
Those of you who played college sports know that your team is essentially your life. You wake up at dawn and practice before breakfast, which you go to together. Then you go to class, practice more, dunk yourself in an ice bath, eat together again, go to study hall — of course, together — and then get checked on by your team captain at curfew to make sure you’re in bed in time to do it all over again.
This would have been awesome, except for two problems. My body wouldn’t cooperate with our twice-a-day practices and seemed to be staging a daily mutiny in painful knee inflammation that no amount of ice baths could fix. And I despised my teammates. Like, I truly cringed being around them, felt perpetually on the outside of an inside joke, and most of all, hardcore judged them as not being serious enough about both God and school. (Bless my younger self. She was so intense.)
I got my dream. And I didn’t feel safe to be myself on my team.
Maintaining my dream required disconnecting myself from discovering who I was becoming. I was so busy judging others and shutting down inside that I spent my whole first semester of college nearly friendless and entirely exhausted. The dream was downright disappointing. I was slowly realizing that I wanted the joy of my hidden loves more than the glory of achievement on the field.
There are moments in each of our stories, some meager and some mighty, when we decide to choose wholeness over continuing to let others define our worth for us.
Often, these moments come in the death of a dream.
When our dreams are not planted in the soil of adequate relational safety, they drain the life inside us. When our dream of making others proud — including our families and God — does not include the dignity of being able to delight in our actual lives, we become divided and discouraged. We were made for wholeness and our bodies and hearts won’t settle for anything less.
In our younger years, and often to this day, we find ourselves in a dilemma between maintaining attachment and seeking authenticity. Belonging is not only a beautiful word; it’s a basic human need for survival.
We often reflexively trade in our authenticity for maintaining attachment with important people in our lives. To get belonging we learn to belittle the parts of ourselves that don’t get applause. We seek connection, but sometimes how we seek it ends up crushing us.
It sounds so good it won’t feel true: God in Christ is handing full belonging to you.
The great task of adult faith is receiving that God desires our wholeness more than our work, and our presence more than our performance. In Christ, we are given an attachment to God that no amount of authenticity can revoke.
After months of ice baths and physical therapy and being afraid of disappointing my dad, one night I crawled into the corner of my dorm closet, called my dad, and through tears, told him I needed to quit the soccer team. He was confused and disappointed, but at the end, he said, “I love you no matter what.”
I needed to learn I was loved even when I lost the title of college athlete. I needed to choose a life I liked more than a life that sounded lucrative. I needed disappointment to break open the husk of the seed of my truer, stronger self.
And maybe you do too.
Ariel Krienke says
Encouragement for those trying to live the faith surrounded by a world that doesn’t. A world that doesn’t understand why you don’t just give in and step away from God’s standards in order to fit in. You are not alone. Thank you. I needed this so badly. Even our counselor doesn’t understand. Thank you sisters for showing me I’m not alone
Such powerful words. I appreciate that you are willing to share your story. It gives me a lot to think about.
Janet W says
Thank you for your beautiful words and beautiful reminder that we don’t have to be “all that” to others or the world just “all that” to God.
He simply desires our presence.
Kathi Lipp says
This is just beautiful friend. God wants so much for us. I love how you illustrated that truth.
Nancy Ruegg says
Insightful wisdom here, K. J. Most of us can relate to pursuing a dream, only to discover that God’s purpose in it wasn’t the dream itself, but the life-lessons learned during the pursuit or after (as in your case). Sometimes guilt crowds in–a reaction to the failure because we fear we’ve missed God’s perfect plan. (Otherwise, why did the dream fail?) But I believe it’s true: “Sometimes nothing succeeds like failure” (Tommy Lasorda). The important lessons God prepared for you are proof of that.
Knel Dakis says
My heart cried as I read your devotional article. I know it was real hard back then when you had to make that choice. But as you said, you “needed disappointment to break open the husk of the seed of your truer, stronger self.” I can very well relate. God helped you “choose having a good life over being seen as good enough”. I did that decision, too. And it made me become truly happy and joyful deep, deep within me. All glory to God. Thank you for sharing your heart.
Lynn M says
Thank you KJ!! Such a beautiful and truthful, honest account of what we all probably deal with in the course of our lives… It is spot on for the struggle I’ve been in as well. Your article helped me to accurately see where the primary struggle is. I will also share this with my 19 year old daughter who has been going through the same thing for many years… It is obvious that God has gifted you with insight and the ability to clearly communicate your experience to help others. Keep up the good work KJ !!!
Beth Williams says
Society tells us that we must keep doing, achieving, striving. That in turn will earn God’s love & affection. Just the opposite is true. We don’t have to do anything or perform for Jesus. He wants us to spend time with Him. Prayer, devotion & worship are the best things we can do. He loves us so much that He sent His only son Jesus to die a horrible death so we can be with Him in eternity. Don’t worry about the death of a dream. Quit striving, doing & wearing yourself out. Simply spend time with Jesus each day/week & He will shower you with love, grace & mercy.