The Contest and the Prize

I was feeling so frustrated. I had stories inside of me—lots and lots of stories. Almost every day, I saw something or experienced something that made another story begin forming in my brain. But I had no outlet for my stories, no place for them to go, no one to read them.

There was other frustration going on in my life, too. My husband Bill and I had dropped everything to move from Alaska to Pennsylvania to be near our elderly mothers. We had surrendered jobs, friends, our house, our church—everything. Two months after we arrived here, Bill’s mother’s health declined rapidly and she died. A few months after that, my own mother’s living situation changed and she made the choice to move to Florida to live with my sister.

I couldn’t help but wonder why we were even here.

At the same time, I was worrying about our chronically ill daughter. She had been plagued by an array of illnesses for the past 8 years. She had aged-out of our health insurance, so continuing to search for the cause of these mysterious illnesses was coming out of our own pockets.

Added to all of this was the fact that Bill couldn’t find a job. The valuable skill set he acquired in the military didn’t seem to be marketable in Philadelphia. Our savings were being depleted—at a rapid pace.

I needed something to distract me, something to make me feel hopeful.

So I entered a writing contest.

This was a contest offered every few years by a national magazine. 12 winners would attend a writers’ workshop where they would be mentored by established writers and editors. Their winning entries would be fine-tuned and published in the magazine.

I had wanted to enter this contest for a number of years, but the timing was never right. I always had something going on that kept me from being able to focus on writing the entry piece. But this year, focusing on writing my entry was exactly what I needed to get my mind off everything else.

And this year I felt like it was my year. I knew what to write about, and I sat down and did it. I gave it my all. As I hit “send” on my entry, I had the most wonderful sense that I would be chosen—that somehow I had already been chosen.

For the next three months I was walking on air, dreaming of the writers’ workshop I would attend with the eleven other winners. I imagined all I would learn from the professionals who’d be teaching at the workshop. And I imagined my story and my picture appearing in the magazine.

The contest rules stated that only the winners would be notified; that they’d be contacted by mid-August.

I waited expectantly. I fully believed I’d receive an envelope in the mail.

August 10th came and I started eyeing the mail slot; maybe they’d send the notices early. August 15th rolled around—I was primed for a celebration. Then the 18th and the 23rd came and went and still no letter.

Finally, on August 27th, I accepted the fact that apparently it wasn’t my year after all.

And then something totally unexpected happened: I laughed.

Logically I knew I should probably be feeling foolish for getting my hopes up, but I didn’t.

It occurred to me that I’d been given a gift. In the middle of a time of unemployment and uncertainty, a time of waiting to see what was coming next for my family—in the middle of all that stress—I had three joyful, hopeful months believing I was a winner.

And I was.

Because hope isn’t just the thing you hold onto when you’re dreaming of winning a prize . . .

Sometimes hope actually is the prize.

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Tags: Chronic illness, encouragement, Hope, Unemployment, Writing

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