Olympic-Sized Dreams

Remember, remember, remember.

I remember the anticipation, the celebration, when Alex Morgan put that semifinal goal in the back of the net. The mini flag I clutched the length of both overtimes, covering my eyes with it so I wouldn’t watch them lose. But they didn’t lose, and there was much screaming, and I went to bed with a new dream in my heart.

I remember when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew big and tall, from 2012 on, I would always say: I want to be a professional soccer player. I knew, deep down, that it would take some serious talent (that I didn’t have) to make it to that level. But who knew, right? Working as hard as I could at every practice, putting in the extra work, believing that good things might come of it – it could work, right? I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try.

After all, Alex Morgan once said, “Keep working even when no one is watching,”

and, “Everybody has a talent, but it’s what you do with that talent that makes you great,”

and, “Dream big, because dreams do happen.”

At least, they were credited to her on Google Images. And if it worked for her, maybe it would work for me. So, with the words of a 23-year old gold medalist and the Olympic rings reflecting in my eyes, I plunged forward.

Remember, remember, remember.

I remember feeling lost after graduation, realizing that the one dream I’d clung to for so long – of playing on the biggest stage, doing the thing I love for the rest of my life, and maybe sharing Jesus along the way – was not going to happen. Of course, there was never any real hope. I was a non-starting right mid on a homeschool team that barely made playoffs each year. Those years were some of my favorites, but I was not exactly superstar material. Still, it did my heart good to be unrealistic for a time. It did my heart good to dream big, whether I fully believed in that dream’s eventual fulfillment or not.

The Olympics weren’t my future after all.

See, the Olympics have always been big in my family. The first year I remember was 2008 in Beijing, when we would count each country’s medals with gold, silver, and bronze star stickers. According to us, Michael Phelps looked like a young version of my dad, and we loved watching him dominate. Usain Bolt took his place as the fastest man in the world, Nastia Liukin claimed her gymnastics title, and Misty May and Kerri Walsh-Jennings cemented themselves as legendary in my mind. I was only 8, but I was taken, and could hardly wait another four years.

Then came London in 2012 – the one that stands out, that opened my eyes. Alex Morgan (“baby horse” as the broadcasters called her too many times) took the US women’s’ soccer team to gold, and I could think of no better profession, and no better legacy. Gabby Douglas won gold (I stayed up LATE to watch that one), good ol’ Michael became the most decorated Olympian of all-time with 22 medals, Missy Franklin was suddenly a household name, and Allyson Felix was dubbed “one of my favorites.” That year is the one I remember the most, looking back – we even bought a 2-hour highlight DVD so we’d never forget it. That year, I wanted nothing more than to be taking the podium with those Olympians.

During Rio 2016, I created pages and pages of “highlight trackers,” so I wouldn’t have the chance to forget anything important. I ended up not even finishing half of them, because I realized I would rather just watch. My sisters and I watched Maya Dirado swim her way to gold, and were sad because of her decision to retire after only one go ’round. Mr. Phelps, of course, was back from retirement for one more go. For the first time ever I was interested in diving, because David Boudia and Steele Johnson spoke about their identity in Christ while their interviewer attempted to cut them off. Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky both emerged as stars, maybe even the best of all-time in their prospective sports. The US soccer team fell to Sweden in the quarterfinals, and we cried a lot that day. Also, it was pretty odd to be watching the first Olympics in which people younger than me were winning medals.

Then there was this year, 2021 – the coming together of nations postponed, because a pandemic is indeed a big deal. But a year later, they did happen…and unfortunately, we missed most of the telecasts because we were on a family adventure in Utah, seeing the sights. Did we forget about the Olympics, though? Of course not. We woke up at 2AM to watch our favorite soccer team play a few less-than-impressive games before they missed out on gold, earning bronze instead. Allyson Felix killed it, as a new mom and a new Track & Field medal record holder. Simone Biles sparked a conversation about mental health when she stepped down from most of the events she was entered in, and Sunisa Lee took over the All-Around title with grace. Sydney McLaughlin came into the picture in world-record style at age 21, Caeleb Dressel looked in disbelief at his times quite a few times, and Katie Ledecky told us she’s only just getting started.

If you didn’t read every single word of the past four paragraphs, I don’t fault you. Those are just my personal Olympic memories, and the reasons why I’ll always look forward to every fourth year (and every second year, for the Winter Olympics). They represent dedicated time with my family, a chance to recognize Jesus in the words and actions of certain athletes, and a return to what I love about sport. Victory and defeat are tangible, and they sting along with all the celebration. Tears are shed on the big-screen, and we get to grapple with what it means to lose, and what it means to handle loss well. The Games inspire the youngest of us, encouraging us to strive for more, to show grace to our opponents, and put the greatest successes of our lives in right perspective. Medals are delivered, careers are completed, and records are set. Dreams are realized, and dreams come crashing to the ground. Over the course of two weeks of athletic brilliance, we see the best and worst of humanity, and I’ve always thought it to be inexplicably beautiful.

As these summer Olympics came to a close, it all got me thinking: Those Olympic aspirations I had so long ago – what did they mean? What do they mean now? Do I even dream anymore?

Those dreams were a big part of my identity for a portion of my growing-up years. I was learning who I was in Christ, and thanks to my parents, knew I was more than how many goals I scored (thankfully, because the most I every scored in a season was 3). Yet when someone would ask me that question that kept on getting harder to face, I stuck with the same answer: “I want to be a pro soccer player.” I didn’t know what to say beyond that, because that was my honest desire. I wanted to be Alex Morgan. I wanted to feel as alive and in-love as I felt every time I stepped on the field with my best friends, for the rest of my life. I wanted to live out those moments of glory, with a gold medal in hand, because what better way to share your good news with the world, right, Jesus?

Right?

These days, I’m re-defining Olympic-sized dreams.

According to the dictionary, dreams are aspirations, goals, or aims. They’re pieces of your future you hope occur, and are striving for, because you’re excited about what your life would look like if those things were realized.

Today, my quieter, less flashy, more-wonderful-than-I-realized dreams look more spending a few hours at my family’s house, being excited about what they’re excited about, and treasuring every moment as a pearl found in a field, worth all the attention I have.

They look more like writing the paragraph that says what I truly mean, for once.

Piecing together a few video clips into something more, using every ounce of my creative gifts.

Being more consistent at showing up in my relationships than I was yesterday.

Picking up a new project, for no other reason than I’d like to try it.

Saying no to the disorienting “shoulds” of success while God’s voice is calling for a constant re-definition of the word.

Watering the fruits of joy and patience in the tangled parts of my spirit.

Engaging in the long, hard defeat instead of skipping straight to positivity and certainty.

Delving further into who I am, and what makes me tick, and what God is beginning to change in me.

And as I drive to soccer practice tomorrow, I want to coach intentionally, planting seeds of encouragement, belief, and hope in the lives of these athletes – my friends. I want to do the thing that I love and makes me feel alive, for as long as I can. And I want to share these pieces of Jesus that have been sown in me, these perspective-shifting ways of the kingdom that break us, and mold us, and turn us towards the truer definition of fame and fortune.

I’m dreaming big now, and I can feel it broadening every horizon.

Yes, these are my Olympic-sized dreams.

~ E.M.H.

If I Only Look Up

Here I go again, lifting a hand in praise only to drop it when it tires. Focusing intently on the spot I last saw you, only for something to flicker in my peripheral view. Propping my head upwards with all the braces and contraptions I can find, in order to “set my mind on things above, not on earthly things.”

My neck is cramping, when finally: a spark. It’s being kindled right in front of me – in the dead center of this vision I’ve erected for myself. A reward for all my searching. But lo, as it lights, it creeps down, first slowly, then into a plunge. I strain my body to stay fixed on its brilliance, but the splint I’ve devised keeps me facing the void, out of sight of your star.

Alright, fine, if that’s how you want it.

Yanking my head from its chaining shrine, intended for a shot at righteousness, my eyes finally fall toward the fallen earth, and your fallen star. I find it lighting not one spot, but many. It is growing, multiplying. One minute, in the hosta blooms emerging from their roots. Another, in the faces of those I hold dear. Then in the forming of potter’s clay, and musical compositions, and science projects. Then in my own mind, imagination darting wildly like a wakened child.

Here is your temple, here are the fractals of glory you were talking about – not ones you have to pull out a telescope or keep opening the same wardrobe door to find, but the ones that have taken a fall for us. They take on the unstained humility of their Maker, don’t they? Descending from their perfect placement up there, to where we can touch and taste them down here?

And I come to think, maybe the things above have come to live with us. Maybe my heart + mind can be set on the things above that I see, in part, right here. Maybe if I only look up, I’m missing you. ✨

~ E.M.H.

A Little More Like Me

I think these days I’m becoming a little more like me.

It’s a war in my mind, you know? Because part of me believes I was never more me than I was at 3 years old, running without a clue there were such things as races, and letting my imagination and unbridled joy speak for themselves. I was little. I never thought about what it meant to be myself, I just was. Sometimes I curse the blasted over-complication of adulthood. Is it a blessing to walk a maze of speculations every minute, or am I digging myself deeper into a hole? I want, if only for a few hours, to be that child again.

So, was my love less tarnished at the start?

Or is my love now being scrubbed cleaner than ever, having known it and its pitfalls well?

I know I’m not fully me yet. That’s still ahead, at some further bend in the trail. There are corners undiscovered, paint colors that will better suit my layers of drywall, and secret hatches I can’t wait to stomp upon one day. I’ve always loved the idea of secret doors. And to think there might be more than a few in me? I’m suddenly excited by the possibilities that lie within. Never have been before. I’ve always thought myself too shallow and too intricate all at once, and been ashamed of both. Too timid, too childish, too incompetent. Too many too’s for anything that matters. Though I’ve recognized them for ages as lies, I think deep inside, they’ve snuck in as truth.

Becoming, becoming, becoming.

Every day, I hope I am becoming something. I’ve heard it said that our goal should be to always have grown a bit when we hit our pillows at night – to be more than we were, even if it’s only by a smidge. But you know, sometimes I don’t feel like becoming anything at all. I want to wait here, in this silence. Or is it in this convenience, in this selfishness? I’m not saying it is. I’m just not barring the possibility. I don’t always want to become more, because I’m lazy by nature and complacent of heart. When that bite of the forbidden fruit sent everything spinning backwards, it took my desire to live out my potential right along with it. I sit around. I forget the coin handed to me by the master on his way out the door. My feet stubbornly stay glued where they are, in the blue-light of a phone or in the blinding light of false positives.

Until that jolt from the heavens sends me into unrest.

I simultaneously hope you know this feeling, and hope you don’t. It’s that day that everything that can go wrong does, and you have nothing to pin it on but your own frenzied mind. It’s all my fault. It’s when you can’t jump the distance to another person, and you’re left with avoidance of eye contact and muted conversation. It’s all my fault. It’s when you’re flopped on your bed alone, besides the demons leaving you breathless, throwing every arrow you have back at your own heart. Everything is my fault. It’s those times that I’m severely aware of every part of myself that went missing at the Fall. I know I’m so far from where I could be, where I should be. I long to be more. And it’s that agony, that divine unrest, that pulls me into a deeper desire, a deeper course of action.

It’s not the listening to the demons that does the good work.

No, it’s the wrestling back of the shadows.

It’s the picking up the blade of the truth and learning how to wield it, how to let it be wielded in me.

A little more me; I know I am that, more than I was last year. Hopefully last week. I’ve delved into my darker sides and I know them better, I know me better. I’ve caught a glimpse above the treeline, of my gladdest and most satisfied self, satisfied in who I believe I’m made to be. And since I know them, I hope I can continue in this long, worthy work: of digging, and struggling with, and unearthing each nuance of my fearfully and wonderfully shaped self – my mind, my body, my heart. To become a little more like me, a little more like the me that you dreamed up at the very start, the one that looks like you. To know that I am not something to be avoided and overlooked, but am the ground where your temple lies.

Yes, may I be a little more like me, in time.

~ E.M.H