If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be by the ocean in a little bungalow with cedar shingles and old wood floors. For some people it’s the mountains or the Grand Canyon or the bright lights of a big city. For me, it’s the foamy white surf and the vastness of the unknown right beyond my toes. One year ago I became a writer, and I felt the same way as I stared at the blank screen and the little cursor taunting me.
I was feeling a little lost like a fish caught in the waves who can’t decide if she wants to find her way back to the safety of the school or explore the unknown. I had recently left my staff job to stay home full-time with my girls, a decision that both excited me and scared me to death. Facebook kept asking me to update my work profile, but I didn’t know what to write. (I still haven’t written anything.) Here I was pouring my heart and soul into my marriage and these two little girls, but I still felt a little disoriented. I could sense something stirring in me, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
I’ve loved words for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I would hide under my covers with a flashlight so I could keep reading after my parents told me to go to sleep. And then there was the season where I pretended I was living like Laura Ingalls Wilder and kept a bowl and pitcher next to my bed for washing my face before bed. Some people see the world through music or pictures or numbers. I see the world through words. Through stories. I pushed all that back during college, determined to succeed at math and sciences. Gratefully, my honors program kept my toes in the water of literature and writing.
When blogs came around, I posted here and there about random things. But it wasn’t until marriage and motherhood that I found that thing. To do anything hard and vulnerable and scary, you must have that thing. That thing that stirs in your belly, growing and becoming until you just have to let it out. That thing that makes all the rough drafts, all the editing, all the backspace worth it. Otherwise, I could use nap time to catch up on Netflix and eat peanut butter cups on the couch.
Several years ago, the year before I became a mom actually, the hardest year of my life thus far, I woke up one morning and everything changed. The sunlight was coming through the blinds casting little lines across the carpet beside the bed. Almost audibly, I heard God say, “I’ve given you a gift with words. You can either use it to build yourself up or to build others up. One will ruin you. The other will give you unending joy.” I was wallowing in pride and insecurity, manipulating others to give me the praise I desired whether it was deserved or not. But on that morning, I had a new mission–to encourage others. It would take a few more years and the learning curve called motherhood before I knew my specific mission was to encourage women to live the abundant life God had called them to. Not the perfect life, not the easy life, not the Pinterest life, but the life that smiles at the crazy and chaotic knowing true beauty comes from pouring into others.
A friend who is a little further down the road than me kindly told me one day I had much wisdom for someone my age. I thanked her for the encouragement but assured her that, in fact, I’m just incredibly stubborn and have had to learn the same lessons over and over, most of them the hard way.
The week after Lydia turned one, we went with my extended family to Jamaica for a week. As the Wentworths tend to do, we got to know the head chef at the resort. He told us to let him know if there was anything he could get us while we were visiting. All week we feasted on homemade croissants and Nutella, fried plantains, fresh fish and passion fruit that made you pucker. And every lunch we crossed our fingers hoping there would be fresh calamari, hot and crispy and just out of the fryer. During our last meal there, my cousins, sister and I asked the chef if he wouldn’t mind making us one more batch of his delicious calamari. He disappeared and a few minutes later came back with a platter of sizzling calamari beside little ramekins of spicy cocktail sauce.
I didn’t eat calamari for most of my life. Ordering squid is not like ordering macaroni and cheese. Squid is different and weird and squishy which are not normally words you want to use to describe your meal. But add some high heat and a little dusting of cornmeal and everything changes. That’s how I feel when I write, like a million ideas are swirling around in my brain, and when I sit down these ideas that seem slippery at best start to transform. Emotions and feelings get sorted out and I’m able to process the undercurrents swirling in my head. Writing has helped me understand how seasons of pain have shaped me and given me a story I wouldn’t have otherwise. I don’t always love writing, but I always love having written. I’ve learned this year that you might not always feel like doing your thing. But you will always love having done your thing. Every time I sit down to write, I learn something, see something, realize something. And given enough time, thoughts and words that seem like slippery squid start to transform into little golden rings that are crispy and tender, salty like the ocean and sweet from the cornmeal. But it takes heat. Your thing won’t be easy.
Did you know less than five percent of the ocean has been explored? When we stand at the edge with our toes just touching the surf, the unknown seems so vast. And it is. But I’ve found that it’s in the unknown that we get to experience the abundant life Christ died to give us. Everybody has some thing. For one friend it’s learning to play the guitar. For one it’s starting a ministry to rescue Indian girls. For another it’s teaching classes to new moms, and for another it’s traveling to Germany for two months this summer. Don’t do somebody else’s thing. Do yours. If you don’t know what your thing is, look around and see what it is you used to enjoy, that goal you’ve said you’ll tackle later or that dream you’re afraid to whisper out loud. Let the naysayers chatter on. People will find out about your thing and give you strange looks or wonder why you’re wasting your money or your time or your energy on that. Ignore them. They’re just jealous of your courage. Write that song. Take that class. Make that call. The ocean is vast, and much of it is unknown. But we know the One who made it all. And we live for Him. I have to think He loves it when His children run in the surf and dive into His great big ocean.
Thank you for celebrating with me. For one year of clacking away on this little keyboard. For one year of vulnerably laying my heart out in black and white characters hoping someone else might hear, “You’re not the only one,” and be encouraged to keep dreaming, to keep fighting, to keep believing. For one year of stories about life, love and learning the hard way.
When do you get to call yourself a writer? A pianist? A freedom-fighter? A runner? A teacher? A surfer? I say it’s when you face the fear, the fear of failure and the fear of what others might think, and start doing it anyway. When you stand at the water’s edge and dive in.
To one year of my dream and to all my fellow dreamers, I leave you with these words from Theodore Roosevelt…
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.