I started writing stories at the age seven. I have vivid memories of sitting in my childhood bedroom filling an entire notebook in a single afternoon.
My mom saved an assortment of my earliest notebooks and recently brought them to me in a large box. It was profoundly moving to look at the bound collection of old stories and realize I had not let the writing part of my heart die with age.
You see, this is what my bedroom floor looks like right now.
(Pardon me while I say something to my father. Dad, I promise I will never call your “pile” system of organization messy again.)
As you can see, I am still filling notebooks, writing on scraps of paper, and scrawling permanent messages on whatever movable surface I can find.
Yet, in my 32 years of committing eloquent words to paper, I have never entered a writing contest.
So when my friend Shannon presented the submission guidelines for a writing contest she read about in a well-known magazine, I agreed to take a look.
As she handed me the entry rules, she spoke with such conviction … as if my life depended on entering this contest.
“You have to enter this, Rachel. You can win this.”
I felt the hairs on my arms stand straight up.
I looked down and read the contest question, “Who are you most surprised to be friends with?” and then the words, “Winner receives $1,000.”
I immediately knew the answer to the writing prompt question; it was the same person to whom I would give the prize money, if I should miraculously win.
There was only one small (literally, small) problem. The maximum length for the writing submission was 300 words.
300 words!*#! Are you kidding me???
Let’s just put it this way … I’m the person whose phone messages run so long, I tend to get cut off. I’m the lady who has to ‘continue on the back’ when filling out a comment card. I’m the nerd who actually types her thank you notes because the cute little cards are simply too small for everything I have to say.
I just couldn’t imagine how I, the wordiest of all wordy people in the world, could write a winning story in less than 300 words.
But for the woman I was writing about, my dear friend Angie, I could do anything for her.
So for the first time in my life, I was succinct.
Here is my 290-word contest submission:
Intertwined By The Wind
She’s collard greens, barbeque ribs, and Granny’s cornbread. I’m California rolls, wasabi, and edamame.
She ends her sentences with acronyms like LOL and LMBO followed by a never-ending row of exclamation points. I couldn’t bring myself to use Internet slang if I was using twigs to create a distress signal.
She performs expressive worship dances in front of entire church congregations. I can’t imagine dancing in public without consuming at least one glass of wine.
She’s the moxie of Queen Latifah mixed with the timeless beauty of Erykah Badu. I’m a bubbly version of Sporty Spice with Martha Stewart tendencies.
Friends like us don’t meet at the park, Starbucks, or in the Ten Items Or Less line.
Friends like us meet providentially.
While I was huddled in my basement with my two young daughters praying for our lives, she was about to lose one of the few things that truly mattered on this earth.
When I found out this woman lost her daughter and would be caring for her two young grandchildren, I knew I had to go to her.
A tornado can bring together the most unlikely pair.
I’ll never forget when I drove up to her house, my car loaded down with children’s clothing and toy donations from my neighbors.
From an outsider, we probably looked like the 21st century version of “The Odd Couple,” but to us, it was the embrace of a long-lost sister.
She invited me in and we talked; we laughed; we cried. In three mere hours, she not only became my forever friend, she also became my hero.
I intended to add a little light to her eyes during a devastating time, but instead she has illuminated mine forever.
After several weeks of waiting, I found out I didn’t win … the writing contest, that is.
But I have won something far greater.
You see, I am one of those people who have trouble forgiving myself for past mistakes. I am one of those people who can be downright cruel, beating herself up over poor choices, wasted opportunities, and daily failures. Although I encourage my friends, family, and blog readers to just “let go” and move on, I have difficulty allowing myself the same privilege.
Until last Saturday.
Just days after discovering my submission was not chosen in the writing contest, I met Angie and her family at the zoo.
When I saw Angie and her two precious grandbabies walking toward me with radiant smiles that challenged the sun, I felt as if an enormous weight was being lifted.
And when Angie grasped me in her arms and held me with every ounce of love and gratitude she felt in her heart, I knew. I knew why my life had intersected with Angie’s on my journey to grasp what matters.
In my 39th birthday post last January, I wrote these words:
I have today.
Yesterday is gone. All the mistakes, failures, poor choices, and the things I wish I could do over … they are gone.
Today stands before me with its arms wide open.
All I have to do is grasp it.
I wrote those words, but at time, I didn’t believe they applied to me.
But now I do.
You see, Angie IS my today. She holds her arms wide open, allowing me to step into a beautiful new beginning despite what happened yesterday, a week ago, or ten years ago. Through her, I have the opportunity to make this moment in my life significant in any way that I can.
And what I didn’t believe in January 2010, but do now is this:
The gift of today is not an exclusive “winning ticket” for only a select few. It is not just for those who are chosen by a panel of judges or by a jury of their peers. It is not solely for those deemed “worthy” by some unattainable standard.
The gift of today is available to you; it is available to me. It is for anyone who wants to make this moment the kind of moment in which hope and courage are born.
Today is waiting with open arms. So what are you waiting for? Jump into her arms and never look back.
Do you beat yourself up about mistakes in the past? Do you ever feel consumed with guilt over missed opportunities or daily failures?
Imagine waking up tomorrow and finding the remains of yesterday completely erased and the opportunity to begin anew is right at your fingertips.
You don’t have to imagine. Today holds the opportunity to grasp what matters, even if you have not quite managed it in the past.
*Have you put off calling someone to make amends? Do it today.
*Have you put off pursuing your true passion because you’ve been too busy? Do it today.
*Have you put off starting an exercise program because you just don’t have time? Do it today.
*Have you put off creating a blog? Entering a photography contest? Selling a piece of your art or handmade clothing on Etsy? Do it today.
*Have you put off taking a weekend excursion with your significant other because the time is never right? Do it today.
Tomorrow is gone, but a beautiful, glorious, and forgiving today stands before you with arms wide open.