A Fire in My Heart

By Diane Stark

A Fire in My Heart

For most little girls, growing up in the ’80s meant Cabbage Patch dolls, slumber parties, and Molly Ringwald movies on Beta tapes. But for me, all of those things were set aside in 1984. That year, something else took center stage in my life. Mary Lou Retton had won the Olympic gold medal for gymnastics. She set all kinds of records. And I was truly obsessed.

At first, I would just watch her on TV. I mean, for hours. But soon, watching her wasn’t enough. I wanted to be her. (Yes, unfortunately, that included the haircut.)

My younger sister and I would play “Mary Lou” nearly every afternoon after school. We would swing as high as we could on our backyard swing set, and then jump off the swing at just the right moment. For just a second, it felt like we were flying, exactly like Mary Lou when she performed her vaults. As we landed, we’d make sure our feet planted firmly on the ground with no hop. Then we’d throw our hands in the air, arch our backs and smile proudly. We would be the judge for one another, and our commentary always went something like this:

“And she sticks the landing! What an amazing feat that was, Ladies and Gentlemen! Never in the history of this great country have we seen a landing as great as that one was! Now let’s see what the judges have to say…It’s a perfect 10! And the crowd goes wild…”

I swear that we could actually hear the applause of the fans and feel their excitement. I can remember standing barefoot in the grass, listening to my sister’s glowing report on my performance, knowing that someday, I would be a star, just like Mary Lou.

Well, it’s not 1984 anymore, and I hung up my leotards a long time ago. I’m now a just-turned-40 wife and mother. And I’m definitely not a star.

Recently, I received an email quiz called “How to Know if You’re a Child of the ’80s.” It mentioned all the usual stuff: Brady Bunch reruns, the Super Bowl Shuffle, and of course, Michael Jackson and “Thriller.” But #16 on the list really caught my attention: Which Olympic gymnast received a perfect 10 at the games in 1984?

Mary Lou Retton, of course.

For the rest of that day, I wondered what my childhood idol had been up to these past few decades. A quick Google search showed that she had married and had four children, all girls. She is the author of several inspirational books. She is available for motivational speaking engagements, and she tries to respond to her fan mail personally.

And then I ran across a quote by Mary Lou, which states: “Each of us has a fire in our heart for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and to keep it lit.”

For the next several days, Mary Lou’s wise words ran through my mind. Did I have a fire in my heart? I loved my life, but was washing dishes and changing diapers lighting any fires? I knew the answer was no. I was in a rut, and something had to change.

But what could I do to light that fire that Mary Lou spoke of?

And that’s when I remembered something. As a child, when I wasn’t jumping off our backyard swing set pretending to be Mary Lou, I was holed up in my bedroom, writing stories. They were positively awful, but I loved writing and it made me feel so alive.

In that instant, I knew that’s where my fire was.

I began writing essays and short stories about my children and my life as a mom. At first, just writing was enough, but after a few months, I decided to see if I could actually get something published. Surprisingly – no, amazingly – a woman’s magazine out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, bought the very first essay I sent them. (Thank you, Sasee!)

That was all it took. As I held that magazine in my hands and read my very first published story, I was hooked. I felt a fire in my heart.

I earned that first byline nearly a decade ago now and seeing my name in a magazine thrills me just as much as it ever did.

I’ve found the thing that lights a fire in my heart. And although I still have dishes to wash and kids to care for, I’m no longer in a rut.

Writing reminds me that my ordinary, run-of-the-mill life is interesting. Not because I’m doing anything spectacular, but because I’m doing my best at the everyday Mom stuff, and other people can relate to that. I’m just like them – a sweet, but slightly neurotic woman who just loves her hubby and her kids to pieces and wants to give them the moon and the stars. (Or at least clean laundry and a tasty dinner.) I do my best, but I definitely don’t have it all together. I juggle a lot of balls in the air, and I drop one or two – or all of them – on a pretty regular basis. I’m honest about my own imperfections and that speaks to people’s hearts. It reminds readers that their lives don’t have to be perfect to be interesting either.

We all have a story to tell. Writing mine down reminds me how lucky I am to have the family I have. These people not only tolerate me, they love me, dropped balls and everything.

We all have a fire in our hearts for something.

Mine is writing. Even though I’m not a star like Mary Lou, I’m definitely taking her advice.

I’m writing and that’s enough to keep the fire in my heart toasty warm.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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