How to Live with Broken Dreams

“Have you ever had a dream God planted in your heart that you could not eradicate?” the pastor said tenderly to the congregation yesterday. Immediately, tears pooled in my eyes. Oh gosh, I thought, I’m gonna need a whole box of tissues.

We hadn’t been to church in months, but there we were yesterday, in a new congregation to support some friends who were making big commitments.

It’s weird for me to not go to church. As a child we were going every Sunday unless we had a fever or were vomiting. Not going was not an option. So, it’s very bizarre to be in a season where we don’t go regularly. I know it won’t last forever, but right now the grief is plunging to new depths, and I just don’t have the energy for polite conversation with acquaintances. Oh, and I’m mad at God.

It appears He has shattered my dreams and hopes for my life, and I have nothing to say to Him right now.

But apparently, He had something to say to me, because He found me in the pew of a random church yesterday.

Since I was a young girl, I wanted one thing: to get married and have biological babies. It’s probably because I had an incredible mother who was kind and tender and funny. It’s probably because I am the oldest of four daughters, so I’ve been mothering since my first sister was born when I was three. And it’s probably because all of my sisters and I look exactly like our mother – there is no doubt that The McCracken Girls share genetic material.

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And until recently, I didn’t realize how an enormous part of my identity was wrapped around being a blond-haired, blue-eyed, big-smiled McCracken Girl. I really like it when strangers ask me, “Are you a McCracken?” simply because of the way I look. That’s my tribe! That’s where I belong. It’s safe.

And I really wanted my own little tribe of McCracken-Monroe babies. More than anything. To me, it was the Ultimate.

But on September 24th, the doctors told us our son, Tage, would not live long. Then, on that same day, they told us that his disease was genetic, and that if Josh and I had more biological kids, each child would have a 25 percent chance of having this deadly disease, too. Twenty-five percent is not big when it comes to weather, but it’s catastrophic when it comes to losing your children.

And just like that, my dreams of being a mom were shattered. We knew there were other options for having a family, but none of them were part of The Plan. I didn’t want any other options.

Lord, how could You give me this dream of being a mom just to take it away? I’ve prayed recently. It all just seems so cruel. How am I supposed to keep living without this thing my heart yearns for with such a deep ache? I can’t imagine living 60 more years without children. Please don’t make me do that! As the days of grief linger on, I find it difficult to have hope when I look to a future in which my son is gone and I am never pregnant again. God, this isn’t fair! You’ve already taken so much, and it doesn’t feel like you’re coming through on your end of the bargain. What are you doing?!

The Bible is full of the history of people who’ve had their dreams shattered. As the pastor shared yesterday, Joseph dreamt of being a ruler, but was sold into slavery and then put in jail after Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of sleeping with her. It hit me that all this happened over a period of YEARS. I can read it all in two minutes, but Joseph LIVED his broken dreams for years until God changed his circumstances and made good come from it (like a saving-his-whole-family-and-nation-from-famine-and-drought kind of good).  And by the time Joseph’s dream came true, he was more concerned about God’s honor than his own.

David had a dream of building the Temple. God said “yes” to the dream, but “no” to it happening in David’s lifetime. Still, David gave much of his time and money to the cause, even drawing up blueprints for it. Yet, the dream never happened in his lifetime.

Despite their deferred dreams, both men continued to live faithfully to God. And God blessed them for it. Their lives were powerful and influential.

I have had a firm grip on the dream of biological children. I’ve gripped it so hard my knuckles are white. I cry when I think that God wants me to release that dream to Him, because I want to keep clinging to it. Yet, I can tell you that it has been emotionally and physically exhausting to keep gripping and fighting it. I would love to be rid of the burden of it. It consumes my thoughts.

I know the Lord is asking me to let go of this grip I have and to trust that He knows my dreams because He placed those dreams in me. And I am aware that this dream dances on the line of becoming an idol in my life. Many days, I bow before the throne of Parenting, placing all my hope in it when I know that any god other than Jesus falls short.

“(I am) trusting in something that can give (me) no help at all. Yet (I) cannot bring (myself) to ask, ‘Is this thing, this idol that I’m (gripping so tightly) in my hand, a lie?”  (Isaiah 44:20)

God made parents. God made children. He smiles when He sees loving families. But families, and money, and marriage, and status, and fancy things were never supposed to be made into the Ultimate. Only God can be that. Only God can give us the peace we so desperately search for in those other things. Including biological children.

So what do I do? All I can do is remember this: God knows my dream, and He LOVES me. He loves to care for and give good gifts to His children, just as Josh and I would have done anything for our Tage.

This is how God thinks of me and of you. Imagine the best father you know saying this to their child:

“But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. “ (Isaiah 43:1)

“I have created you and have cared for you since before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime – until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” (Isaiah 46:3-4)

“For the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on them in their sorrow. Yet Jerusalem says, ‘The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.’ But the Lord says, ‘Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on my hand!…Those who wait for me will never be put to shame.” (Isaiah 49:13-16, 23)

“I thought to myself, I would love to treat you as my own children! I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land—the finest inheritance in all the world. I looked forward to your calling me, ‘Father,’ and I thought you would never turn away from me again…My wayward children, come back to me, and I will heal your hearts.” (Jeremiah 3:19, 22)

What a tender God He is!

It is because of this tender, fatherly love, that I continue to trust Him. It is because of this love that I can say as David said:

“Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter; You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.”  (Psalm 71:20-21)

I don’t know how many years it will take for me to see His plan in all of this, or if I will even get to see His plan this side of Heaven. And it’s hard. It’s hard to wait, wondering if I will ever feel joy again, wondering if this hole in my heart to be a mother will ever be filled. But how can I not trust a God who loves me the way He does?

So, I wake up every day and I make a choice: Am I going to keep white-knuckling this dream the way I think it should play out, or am I going to release my grip so that my loving God can do what He wants with my dream? Yes, He could take from my open hand, but He could also put things there I’d never even dreamed of.

This is not for sissies, you guys. It’s way easier said than done, and it’s a process. Releasing our dreams to God is not a one-and-done kind of prayer. For me right now, it’s a many times a day kind of prayer as I go to a job that doesn’t include taking care of Tage, when I see pictures of people living “my dream” on Facebook but have no idea what our future looks like, and when the ache for our boy consumes me. Lord, help me know that You’ve still got this.

I believe someday I will say that I have completely let go of – with all five fingers – the consuming grip on this dream, but honestly, today is a two-finger-grip kind of day. And that’s progress.

And for the rest of the grip, I continue to pray:

Lord, I don’t want to let go of this. I know You planted the dream in me, and I have created the avenue by which I thought the dream would come true. It seemed like such a great plan for my life, and I’m having a really, really hard time letting it go. Tears come to my eyes at the thought of handing it over to You. Clearly, I can’t let it go on my own accord. I need Your help, Your power, and Your peace if you want me to trust You with this, and I do want to trust You with it. Lord, help me to still give my best even in the midst of these painful circumstances. I don’t want to just wait for this season to pass. I want to thrive in the midst of it. You delight in helping Your people produce fruit in the midst of a drought. Do it in me, God!   I know my heart prays, “God, help me reach my dream,” but I want it to be, “God, help me reach Your dream.” Will you work in my heart, Lord, until it’s fully surrendered to You? You are a good and loving God. May all the glory and honor be Yours.

And I remember that this isn’t the first dream to be broken. Today would have been the 56th birthday of this wonderfully joyful and goofy woman, my mom:

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She went to be with Jesus six years ago after a battle with cancer.  (Happy Birthday, Mom! Cheers to you, you incredible woman! I bet Jesus gives the best birthday toasts.)

Today also marks three years since we felt the sting of a miscarriage.  I remember the bleeding, the cramps, the grief, like it was yesterday.

Yet, in both of these situations God has restored me.  He has gathered up the broken pieces and made something beautiful in me: more faith, more compassion, more gratitude.

So, I remember, and I pray, Do it again, God.  Do it again.

21 thoughts on “How to Live with Broken Dreams

  1. Oh Molly although I know you only as one of the McCracken girls from church, I ache and pray for you. To lose so much and still write with such hope and faith is so powerful and inspiring. God is working thru you and your words. Please don’t give up on Him and allow yourself to open for his dream for you and for Josh.

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  2. “God, help us reach YOUR dream!”amen! Your words encourage and spur on Molly. I’m overjoyed to be walking the journey of life on earth and one day life eternal with you Wums! Happy Birthday to one of my favorite women (and not just because she brought laffy taffys to our jr. High bible study…)

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  3. First of all, I, too am 56 and have the same haircut as your mom! Secondly, I cannot relate to losing a child, but can certainly sympathize with it; we nearly lost our middle child, Jon, in a horrific car accident the year he graduated h.s. I’m sure that heart-wrenching feeling is just a small percentage of what you feel.
    I can tell, you, however, that we have gone through many life-changing tribulations over the past 10 years and God has come through somehow. Multiple job down-sizings (that means being fired for budgetary reasons, not some fault of yours), financial issues, caring for elderly parents, death…..We should be bankrupt, we should be divorced, we should be bitter and unhappy…but we’re not! We’ve survived and life has evolved for us into somethings we never could’ve dreamed up on our own. Patience is not one of my virtues, but perhaps you can learn to try as I have. We’ve also learned to adjust, to be flexible, to be grateful for what is good in our lives, and to be closer still to family.
    Please keep dreaming. Keep figuring out what you are on Earth for. Keep sharing your faith and lack of faith. Keep writing. Keep being passionate. There is more out there for you…our time is not His (the one thing I’ve learned the most).
    You are well loved, Molly.

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  4. Molly, I love reading your posts. I feel like I can identify with so many of the same feelings and fears you express, even though our stories aren’t quite the same. Thank you for being so open and honest! I’m looking forward to seeing you at TME too.

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  5. Oh Molly. My soul grieves with yours. I’m so sorry to learn of all of this including the passing of your beautiful momma. This was so perfectly written. Love to you sweet girl and I’ll be praying.

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  6. Molly a friend of mine just shared your story with me. The crazy thing is I grew up with your Mom. I went to Junior High and High School with her. I’m the one who sent your family all the pics of her after her passing. I’m still in Topeka. I’m in tears just reading about your story on here. Your Mom is missed by all of her friends too. Sending you big hugs from Topeka. I will pray for you. I’m so very sorry to hear about your baby.

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  7. Molly, you do not know me from Adam but I too went to school with your mom. In every way that you described is how I remember her. I also am from a family of four girls and were often referred to as you were, as the Irwin girls. We also sat in the same pew and did not miss church for anything. My mom sang in the choir and the rest of us sat in the Irwin pew. I am not a writer so please overlook all my “mistakes”!!
    And then I was mad at God. He took my dad when I was 18 years old. To cancer of course. I tried to go back to church but it was my dad sitting in that pew with his arm around me that I missed so much. I didn’t go back for a long time. My mom was mad at me for not raising my two beautiful children in the church. But I was mad.
    Then my best friend got pregnant at the same time as I did. She kept telling me that something was not right and when the doctor would not do anything she went to someone who would. They did extensive testing and found that “Andrew” had osteo genesis, or brittle bone disease. There are several different severities of this horrible disease and his was the worst. They painted a picture to my friend that he would be disfigured and hard to care for and asked her to sign him over to the State which is how they handled things then. So they did. They induced her labor and she delivered in the middle of the night this beautiful blonde headed boy. They wisked him away from her and she cried like no one I have ever seen cry before. Her husband followed them and he brought the baby to show us and I was taken aback. I knew then at that very moment that there was a God for this little boy looked as if he had a halo on his head. It was the most amazing moment for me. Maybe I shouldn’t be so mad at God for he can create such beauty. Sadly, Andrew had a skull fracture from the delivery and they brought the baby to my friend and he died in her arms.
    After they grieved this little guys death, they had more testing to find out why and if they could have more children. The doctor looked a them and said there is a 75% chance that if you have other children they too will have this.
    Not deterred my friend got pregnant again, refused to have any tests, refused to have a sonogram because she told me, this baby is part of me now it doesn’t matter what happens. I loved her for that.
    Today she has two beautiful girls who are the love of her life, five grandchildren and not a dull moment ever. We seldom talk about Andrew but when we do, we always end up talking about God. She was NEVER mad at Him. God needed Andrew in heaven to help with all the other babies.
    I tell you this incredibly long story because I know now in my heart that what will be will be. Your mom will always watch over you as my dad and now my mom will ALWAYS watch over me. I pray that you find peace that passes all understanding and let go. I also send my love…

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  8. Wow. Every word that you wrote felt like an echo of my heart.
    The man that I love walked away from me and the Lord earlier this month. I am devastated as I cry out to God. Your prayer is so similar to the prayers I’ve been writing in my journal each day. I know God is good and He has a plan but right now it is an hour-by-hour release of my dream to be married to my man and pray that I would be obedient. I am praying for my love to surrender and come back to the Lord, but also that I would be obedient and faithful to whatever God has in store for me.

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  9. Dear Ms. Molly,

    My own dear Mom passed your post along to me tonight. You and I haven’t kept in touch over the past 13 years since graduation. For the life of me reading your beautiful words now, I don’t know why. All through HS I admired your beautiful spirit, conveyed so warmly in your beautiful smile. I remember your lovely Mom and my heart breaks for your loss of her. Truly, Heaven must be a more fabulous place, for her presence there. Your candor and faith around fertility struggles speak deeply to my own broken heart. Growing a family has been a very difficult, tear-filled journey for my husband, Jamie and I. I have cried out to, and lashed out at, God almighty so many nights. I’ve stared at negative pregnancy tests, and doctors office walls, and jealously poured over other people’s Facebook posts of smiling little ones. My jealously and impatience have consumed me at times. In March of 2014, despite a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” after years of trying, we were blessed to welcome our own precious miracle. I want to tell you that my faith is fixed, that my heart is always full, but, it’s not. I too wanted my own gaggle of flaxen-haired mini mes. My heart breaks for you and your struggles. The raw beauty of your faith in the unending love of our Lord even in the midst of such pain, strengthens me. In Psalm 56:8, we are reminded that God keeps account of all our tears in a bottle. God knows your sweet, beautiful aching heart, Molly. While you hold your precious child and dear husband God is holding you, I know it. I hope and pray that you find the strength and peace you so faithfully seek. Please know that though the years have passed, tonight I’m praying for you and your family. God is our light in this broken world and his light shines through your genuine faith-filled words. I hope you are comforted in some small measure by my prayers for you as your written words have comforted my heart.
    Jacquie

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  10. Molly,

    I knew Josh when he lived in Muncie and attended The Living Room. I have read your blog and followed your story for awhile, and wanted to comment many times. I know you don’t need one more comment or person sharing their story with you, but I wanted you to know that I hear you. My husband and I have had a journey trying to have a family. I had a miscarriage at 13 weeks, and an ectopic pregnancy before learning that I have a condition with my uterus that won’t allow me to birth my own babies. I am also a teacher and one of those babies was due Aug. 8, and I planned to not teach that year. Over the course of 5 years, we struggled with starting a family, when we came to the decision to adopt. After 3 failed adoption leads, we brought home a baby girl last October. While I know we are on the other side of the journey so to speak because we now have a child, I am learning to live with a broken dream. I, too, wanted to birth my own babies and have blond hair blue eyed cuties that were the perfect mix of my husband’s humor, and my love for others. I love our daughter as if she were my own flesh and blood, and yet, the anger and heartache still surface from time to time. And the pangs of a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy are as real as the day they happened at times. While I can’t possibly understand your pain and experiences, I wanted you to know that I do hear you. And I do grieve and ache with you.

    Jami

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  11. Oh Molly, I am so sorry for the losses you carry. Thank you for sharing your story. You have no idea how perfect the timing of this post is for me. I lost my dad to cancer at age five, so I am all too familiar with grief and loss. I am currently 19 months into infertility struggles, not yet knowing what the outcome will be. I am figuring out what it means to honor my pain and grief without letting it consume me. Releasing my plans and dreams to make room for new ones has been a frustrating but necessary process. It is so good to know we are not alone in this, isn’t it?

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  12. Hello Molly,
    I don’t know you but I have read the replies. I have prayed for you and your husband. Fight your good fight of faith. God isn’t controlled by statics or doctors research. Isn’t that what the doctors in the New Testament told the woman who was bleeding? I don’t know their exact words but they did not heal her Jesus did. Only God can give life a doctor can only analyze or treat. People ask for miracles then they turn to research n statistics n stop anything God could have done. What if the Israelites had stopped at the Red Sea because well it was a big freaking body of water. Fight your good fight of faith. Maybe you and your husband needed some preparations from God to have the child he has for you. Your child could become the one who develops a cure for cancer or AIDS or develop a ship to go to Jupiter. Be patient in times of trouble and never stop praying is written.

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  13. You don’t know me, and my dreams are somewhat different from you, but it’s like you could hear my heart. Thank you for sharing truth and being an encouragement to others like me who ask “Why” and struggle to trust in the Lord’s goodness. Thank you.

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  14. Molly,
    Through my gut-wrenching sobs as I read, I am filled with the presence of the Lord and His love. Thank you for so obediently using the gift He has given you as a writer to minister to those around you as you walk this road. You are so strong and so brave because He has made you that way. I love you sweetie!
    And… I miss her too… So much

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  15. Molly,
    I don’t know you at all, but a friend of mine shared your story on fb. As I read your story, I have been in your shoes. Like you I have always had that motherly instinct. I was always the responsible one that everyone called “mom”. It was very difficult for us to get pregnant, and we tried for a long time. Finally it happened.
    At 22 weeks along we found out that our child had a genetic disease and that he would not live long after birth.
    I too lost a child (full term) due to a genetic disease, and like you was told every child we had would have a 25% chance of the same thing happening. After losing my first child, whom graced us with his presence on earth for a little over a half hour, we know he entered into the gates with open arms and family waiting. Although I didn’t know God’s plan at the time,I was comforted to know that my aunt greeted him with open arms, and found peace knowing she was rocking him to sleep at night.
    A year and a half after losing him, we found ourselves pregnant again, this time with twins. About 10 weeks into our pregnancy we miscarried. We were devastated, how do we overcome two hard losses. Maybe we aren’t supposed to be parents, maybe God is punishing us, maybe, maybe, maybe…
    After another year and a half of trying again, we agreed, this is our last try. If this round doesn’t work, we will look at other options. The last month of trying, on our anniversary, and on our way to a friends wedding, I took my final pregnancy test. There was a faint +. Not believing my eyes, I took 5 more, each one faint. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. Yes we were pregnant! As we proceeded with caution through this pregnancy, knowing all of our past experience, we found out that we were again pregnant with twins. It was a bittersweet moment. The week we found out, was also the week my husband’s grandma fell very ill with her cancer. On her death bed, I grabbed her hand, put it on my stomach and said, you can’t tell anyone, but we’re pregnant with twins. Her eyes lit up, her prayers had been answered. As the weeks went by, we would pass by milestones waiting for the next one, always waiting for the ball to drop. As we passed our 22 and 24 week check up in the clear we still proceeded with caution. Finally it was the big moment, they were here, perfect babies! A little early, but happy, healthy twins!!!
    I guess my story is one of encouragement. Don’t give up on your dream! 25% can seem like a high number, but keep in mind 75% is even higher. We too have been there and it definitely gives your a different perspective, but you never know the bigger plan. Keep trying and don’t let your grip go yet! Third time was a charm for us, but we mentally and emotionally and spiritually grew along the way.
    I wish you blessings!

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  16. Molly—thanks so much for sharing here! May God continue to comfort your heart! What a tremendous loss! And yet you are living the struggle and want to want God’s will. We had 2 miscarriages, adopted a 2-year old from Romania, had 2 birth sons, and I lost my mom to a brain aneurism about a year and 3/4 ago. Death is awful! Loved my mom so much. Hope your mom is rocking your baby boy right now in heaven! And thanks again for sharing your journey and those verses from Isaiah. This encourages me. Joseph’s life, too. “You meant to harm me but God meant it for good to save many lives.” is a favorite verse of mine. Take care and keep mending and living in the midst of the grief!

    Diane Beverly

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  17. Just wanted you to know that you are not alone. This blog really resonated with me. God took away a dream I thought he had given to me. It has been three years, but I am finally feeling the bitterness lose its grip on me. No formula, no fast track, no awesome words of wisdom. Just keep turning to him and know that even when you let go of him, he is holding on to you. Great post!

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  18. I am shamefully finally reading this post. Loved your mom sincerely. She was such a joy giver – as you are Molly. I am praying for you. That God would restore you to a new place and that your heart would feel the grip of His love holding you tighter and tighter. I still can not imagine – and just want you to know you’re loved, prayed for, and cared for over here. xoxo

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