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.