by Nicole T. Waters

I held the list in my trembling hands, determined to read it with a clear voice. I said I wouldn’t cry this time. Our counselor had assigned us the task of writing down all we’d lost in the past few months. Naming them made the grief feel like a physical presence in the room. It was an animal crouching in the corner, wild-eyed and waiting to pounce.

We were sitting in the room of our long-time pastor and counselor friend, staring over his head at the same baseball memorabilia we’d looked upon years ago during our pre-marriage counseling. It was better than meeting his eyes, which I couldn’t bring myself to do. We were different people then we’d been back then. Two moves overseas and back had taken a toll. All those years ago we couldn’t have imagined being back in this room at mid-life carrying these broken dreams and the burdens of unemployment, depression, and anxiety.

We’d chased our dreams to South Asia only two years prior. Now we were back in our hometown that no longer felt like home. We were starting over. We were renting instead of living in our own home. I was working part-time and helping the kids get re-settled into life in the U.S. My husband had no idea what would come next for him as he hit wall after wall trying to find a job or even figure out what he wanted to do after the job we imagined doing for many years evaporated.

We did what our counselor recommended in the weeks since our last appointment and gave form to the nebulous grief we felt. He gave us permission to lament. What had we really lost? A sense of purpose. Security. Community. Settledness. Identity. Assurance that we had heard correctly from God.

That is where we had left off last time—admit what you are feeling and deal with each loss. Deal with them one at a time, however long each one takes. Then, mark it off the list. Ask God to help you heal. Cry if you need to. Name it. Grieve it. Let it go.

I felt like we had made progress with moving on from some of those losses. And yet, there was still a raw emptiness in their place. There remained a nagging thought of, “what now?” How do we redefine ourselves this late in the game?

When I stopped looking around I finally met his gentle eyes, the kind that you know really see you. “It’s not enough to just let go of the old dreams,” he said. “You have to allow yourselves to have new ones.” He gave us our next assignment. Every time we marked a lost dream off our list, replace it with a new one.

“I don’t want to die with the knowledge that I achieved all my goals,” he said. “I want to dream big enough that I’m always still reaching. I want to be brave enough that I always have one or two more dreams I am working toward.”

As hard as it has been letting go of the dreams we held earlier in life, daring to risk loss again has been harder. We walked out of the office that day with a list that I’m still mentally checking things off of and timidly adding onto.

I don’t carry that physical list around anymore, but it is never far from my mind. It’s a practice I have to come back when the fears assail me—the ones that say it’s too late to dream again.

My husband found work after eight long months of unknown. A month after he started working and we began to find a new normal as a family, the whole world shut down around us. COVID-19 plunged the world into the kind of limbo our family had been living in for months. As we watched people struggle around us, an eerie feeling of recognition settled over our hearts. We knew this place of transition and mystery well. 

And so we begin our mental lists again. We grieve the soccer season lost with our son. We lament the probable cancelation of the school play our daughter has proudly practiced for months, the culmination of an elementary school career she isn’t ready to let go of yet. The big and tiny losses that add up to crippling grief, the unknown that lies ahead every day as the virus takes more of our lives away. We try to give them space to cry and the words to name the ache.

We face the dreams we lost and the ones we are still afraid to hold. What if this new job evaporates in this crisis? What if our savings are depleted? What if we are plunged into yet another new-start?

We know we’ll be afraid to dream again even once this trial has passed. We’ll always be waiting for that next wave of disease, that next unknown diagnosis or financial collapse or unfulfilled desire, that “what now, God?” moment. And yet, we risk the loss. Because we know the pain of living stuck. So, we dare to begin again.

Nicole T. Walters is a writer and non-profit communications professional who lives somewhere in the tension between wanderlust and rootedness. She currently makes her home in Georgia with her husband and two children but has lived and left parts of my heart in the Middle East and South Asia. She hopes to help people create space to listen to God, learn from others, and lead lives that love at She has authored essays in several books and her writing has appeared in places like CT Women, Fathom, Red Letter Christians, and (in)courage. She is a regular contributor at SheLoves Magazine and The Mudrooom and is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild.