The Edge

The Edge

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.

Running Hard

Running Hard

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetOne foot in front of the other.

Those are the words I will say over and over to myself tomorrow. My friend Heather gave me that sage advice at the beginning of my training and it’s the phrase I’ve repeated countless times, sometimes with my hands in the air and other times muttering those words through clinched teeth. I packed my bag this morning preparing for warm temperatures. The high is 65 tomorrow. Earlier this week I ran in single digits, so the weather change should be interesting. My tummy feels like butterflies have taken up residence, but I’m really just ready for my feet to hit the pavement.

Somewhere during the early part of my training I realized this journey of training was about far more than just physical stamina. I have this habit of writing Scriptures I’m praying on little paint chips collected from trips to Home Depot and Lowe’s. One day last spring on a little peach paint chip, I scribbled 1 Corinthians 9:26-27…

Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

The New Living Translation says, “So I run with purpose in every step…” Purpose in every step. The easy ones and the ones that leave me cringing. The beautiful ones where it seems almost easy and the ugly ones where I’m tempted to give up. The brave ones and the ones that leave my toes curled in fear. Each footprint on the asphalt a testimony to God’s redeeming work in my life.

This morning I took my peach paint chip off the cork board in my closet so I could pack it in my bag. But before I put it away, I pulled out The Message to see its interpretation of this Scripture…

I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.

God, you are my Sustainer, and I’m grateful for this journey you’ve brought me on this year. I’ll forever treasure the sunrises You painted for me, the timely truth you brought to my ears and the freedom You’ve given me over perfectionism. Thank you for never giving up on this very imperfect girl. I pray every victory I experience brings glory to the One I love.

One foot in front of the other. Purpose in every step. Running hard for the finish line. Tomorrow and every day. This is my prayer.

Five Tries

Five Tries

DSC_3077Yesterday, Diana Nyad completed her 103-mile swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida, a feat that leaves me in awe. She did this without a shark cage, swimming for nearly 53 hours, her lips and tongue becoming swollen from all the salt water. But the most inspiring part of Diana’s story for me is that this was her fifth attempt. She made her first attempt when she was 29. Yesterday, she saw her dream come to fruition 35 years later at the age of 64.

As Diana put her feet on shore, feeling the ground beneath her for the first time in more than two days, she said, “I got three messages. One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.”

Never, ever give up. How many times did Diana want to give up? How hard was it to make a fifth attempt? Perseverance is never easy. What dream have you cast aside because it seems impossible? I remember reading that JK Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected by 12 different publishers before she found one who said yes. Twelve times she heard, “No.” but she persevered.

You are never too old to chase your dreams. Children believe anything is possible. Sunday, I asked some of my first-grade boys at church what they wanted to be when they grew up. An astronaut, an engineer and a superhero. Somewhere along the way, we let things like mortgages, bills and the 10 o’clock news shrink our dreams. If we aren’t careful, we choose comfort over adventure and safety over risk. Jesus told us to have faith like a child. When He said that, maybe He wanted us to remember that with Him anything is possible.

It looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team. Dreamers are contagious. Hang around one long enough and you’ll find yourself dreaming again too. Last Friday, I got to have lunch with two amazing friends, two women God has blessed with incredible gifts of communication. For two hours, we dreamed together, encouraging one another, spurring each other on. Speak life into the dreams of those around you. You never know when your words might be the very wind beneath their wings, the gentle push that nudges them to take flight.

That picture above, that’s me eating the eponymous key lime pie when Matt and I went spent the day in Key West for our sixth anniversary cruise a couple years ago. Diana Nyad, congrats on making it the 103 miles from Havana to Key West in 53 hours.  Congrats on trying five times and doing the impossible. You’ve inspired me. I hope someone gets you a really big piece of key lime pie. And to all of us daring to dream, in the words of a famous blue fish, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”

Why Dreaming Isn’t Selfish

Why Dreaming Isn’t Selfish

IMG_6365With both our children, we didn’t find out whether we were having a boy or girl. I love surprises, and hearing, “It’s a girl!” in the delivery room as they held up both our precious daughters was my favorite memory from both of their births. But towards the end of both pregnancies, the suspense was really getting to me. I would start looking up old wives’ tales to determine girl or boy, pink or blue. A common test was whether the mom craved salty or sweet. Salty cravings meant she was having a boy. Sweet cravings signaled a girl.

That little test proved quite untrue for me. I craved salty around the clock with both my girls. With Lydia, all I wanted was meat and cheese. The cheese wasn’t that far from normal. I consider cheese one of my love languages. But the meat was a radical shift from my usual. I like meat especially in the form of a medium-rare-still-slightly-mooing piece of steak. And if it happens to have butter and blue cheese crumbles on it, you’ll find me drooling. But I don’t usually eat a lot of meat. When I eat pizza (my other love language) it’s usually piled high with artichokes, spinach, feta and lots of olives. It was the salty taste I was craving from the meat.

With Charlotte, all I ate for twenty weeks straight was guacamole with Kettle chips. I ate that for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A midnight snack and first thing in the morning. I went on a ladies retreat during this time, and I took my own avocados and chips so that I could feed my craving. I was sick around the clock those first twenty weeks and guacamole and Kettle chips were the only things I could keep down. The salt would settle my tummy, so I would buy a gigantic bag from Costco and demolish the entire thing in mere days.

Now, I definitely like a sweet treat every now and then and nothing beats a Flopsy cupcake from Muddy’s, moist carrot cake topped with tangy cream cheese icing. Delicious! But I’m almost always going to choose salty, another spoonful of casserole, another chip and dip, another pinch of salt.

Recently, a couple of my girlfriends and I have been talking about dreaming and what it looks like to dream when you’re a wife and a mom. One of my friends said, “I just don’t have anything that’s just for me.” She was talking about a dream, a passion, an adventure. She is an amazing wife and mom, one of the best, actually, but she was struggling with what her place was, a place where she could blaze a trail, explore a dream and change the world. Another friend said, “Dreaming feels selfish.” She adores her kids and husband and loves serving her family selflessly, but she desired a greater sense of purpose. She wanted to explore the God-given gifts that lay dormant within her.

I get that. At the beginning of this year, I had a little bit of a crisis meltdown. I was working part-time on staff at our church, a job I absolutely adored but, as anyone in ministry knows, no matter how much you accomplish there is always much to be done. I was mom to a two-year-old who was in the throes of potty-training and nursing a newborn who was eating every three hours during the day. I was wife to my incredible husband, and because I know his love language is food like me I wanted to make him delicious meals and have him come home to a haven and clean clothes and a not-crazy-and-near-an-emotional-breakdown-don’t-say-the-wrong-thing kind of wife.

But that last one was really struggling. Actually, they were all struggling. I felt like I was drowning, pulled under by expectations I assumed everyone had of me and feeling like a failure when I couldn’t stay afloat. I had stopped writing, stopped reading, stopped cooking. Stopped everything that put fire in my belly and wind under my wings.

I felt dreaming was selfish. Here I was married to the most amazing man I’d ever known with two beautiful, healthy girls, both absolute miracles and it felt incredibly selfish to want anything more. But I started to realize it wasn’t about wanting anything more. It was about wanting God to use me for more. I didn’t want to just cook yummy meals for my husband. I wanted to learn how to be a wife who loves like Christ loved and encourage other women to love their husbands that way too. I didn’t want to just keep my girls safe and pretty. I wanted to show them how to be brave and dream big. The quest for a somewhat-clean home, mostly folded laundry and a Crock-Pot dinner felt way too small for a God I knew could do the impossible.

And that’s when I realized dreaming isn’t selfish. When I dream a God-sized dream, when I embark on the adventure He’s invited me on, when I say, “Yes!” to Him, I’m living in the abundance of the life He’s given me. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus Himself tells us He came to give us an abundant life. It isn’t selfish for us to pray bold prayers and dream audacious dreams. I think, instead, it honors God because it’s the life His Son died to give us.

In Matthew, Jesus tells us we are the salt of the earth. I keep a little bowl of salt right next to my stove. My younger sister made it in a pottery class when she was nine. Its unique shape and colorful paint job make me smile every time I see it. But my favorite part is that when the salt is almost gone, the basin of the bowl says, “I love you, Elissa.” I reach over for the salt bowl every day. A teaspoon in my favorite goat cheese biscuits, a pinch to bring out the rich cocoa flavor in an espresso chocolate cake and a generous sprinkling over the olive-oil-coated Brussels sprouts right before roasting. Salt has a million purposes. It preserves meat, adds flavor to vegetables and plays a crucial role in chilling my daddy’s homemade vanilla ice cream.

We are just like that salt. And when we dream, we sprinkle that salt all over our planet. We douse our friendships with the preserving qualities of forgiveness and grace. We flavor areas riddled by injustice with redemption, restoration and the life-changing power of God’s love. We provide the vessel for God to accomplish miracles through us. When our dreams are about the mission of God, we aren’t being selfish by dreaming. We are living the abundant life Christ died to give us. We are choosing a life of zest and flavor over bland and flat. We are asking God to use us in ways we can’t even imagine.

Pass the salt, please.