I recently attended the Write! Canada conference in Guelph, Ontario, where I had the opportunity to win my way in rather than paying the $400 conference fee. I didn't get to give an acceptance speech at the award's ceremony, but if I could, it would go a little something like this:

"I would like to thank the Great Igniter for sparking creativy in His creation and for thinking of me while He was at it. I would also like to thank my fellow humanity for "just being you" because you are the constant source of my inspiration. And last but not least, I owe a great deal of gratitude to my editor, Patricia Paddey, for making me look better than I really am. Thank you, Canada, for giving this American a chance."

You can just imagine the thunderous applause that would be sure to follow...

Below is my entry that took first prize:

They’re ordinary and uncelebrated. They’re old, young and in between. Some are nameless, but none are forgotten; leaving an imprint on my soul in ways that only subtlety can. They are my fellow human beings; each one, created in His image. And I believe they are God’s way of infusing colour into my life when shades of grey have tried to creep in.

Joy hasn’t come easily since my move to Canada. Sure being married to the nicest man this side of the U.S. border has cushioned the transitional blow, but we are creatures of comfort, and my “easy chair” didn’t make the move. It sits accumulating dust in my home state of Oklahoma. Just three years later, and my former life feels like a children’s story I once had memorized, but am now slowly starting to forget. I am changed. Changing. And I see people, regular people, in ways I never did before.

June, 2007.

I’m on a road trip to Ottawa with my husband. It’s the noon hour and I’m roaring hungry so we make a break at a travel stop. My hair’s disheveled and I’m groggy from napping in the rental car. McDonald’s is really our only option for food for miles. A part of me pretends to settle for fast-food, the other is secretly happy to gorge on a number three with no onions. There are about four lanes of McDonald’s traffic and I’ve already got my arms crossed in anticipation of the wait.

A chipper voice with an Eastern European accent in the far left "lane,” rouses me. It belongs to an elderly woman who has just placed her order. I’m not used to hearing happy voices in McDonald's. Impatient and curt ones, yes. I’m in unfamiliar fast-food territory here. She is with her husband and they look to be in their 70's at least, possibly in their 80's, and very much in love. That alone encourages me; the thought that they have probably been married for 50 years. I'll never forget what she says next in her thick, expressive accent, to the young female cashier wearing a pony tail and McDonald's uniform visor: "You have the most BEAUTIFUL smile! NEVER (pause) stop smiling. (Arthritic and gnarly hands thrust in the air) Smile for the rest of your life!"

Once finished with her compliment, which also sounds like a beautiful command, the little old lady turns and walks away with her order. A lump catches in my throat, a tear brims in my eye, and I smile—broadly—as if she has given the compliment to me. I want the old lady to be my grandma, to take my cheeks in her hands and lovingly pinch them. The cashier at the counter smiles too, and I wonder if she realizes the profound and simple beauty of this moment. I wonder if she will carry that sage wisdom with her "for the rest of her life."
“Thank you, Lord, for the unexpected ways you shine in your people.”

October, 2007.

I call her my Norman Rockwell girl. Partly because she’s got so much character like the artist’s paintings, and partly because I wish I could transplant her back into those quintessential scenes of life Americana Norman made famous on canvas. She has freckles and a mischievous way about her that no one can cure. I’m her mentor in an after school program.

They call her “at-risk” because she lives in North End Hamilton, and because her mother died recently, leaving her with overwhelmed grandparents who care for three young children in their retirement. Her reading skills are atrocious and I often wonder if she’ll even make it to grade 6. I haven’t seen her all summer and I’m worried she won’t remember me or even care that I returned to volunteer for another school semester. I haven’t heard from Immigration Canada, so I cannot legally seek paid employment. It hurts, but I suppose the career world of journalism can wait. For now, Elizabeth needs me. I hope.

I watch her come into the centre like a whirlwind. Backpack half slung off her shoulders, face flushed from the early October shiver, and as always, pestering the director with questions like, "What's today's snack?” “Who's my mentor?” “Can I be the games leader?" I wait with an amused look for her response, as an answer to at least one of her questions comes. Her eyes dart back and forth across the room searching for familiar faces. And finally, her surprised, but recognizing eyes meet my smiling, almost tear-glazed ones. Her backpack finishes its descent to the ground and she sails to my already open embrace.

As my Norman Rockwell girl squeezes me, tighter and longer than I expect, all my worries begin to ease. When she yells out through her contagious grin, "you came back!" all doubt is completely erased. Looking down at her, an inch taller, her face a little less chubby, and with freckles in new places I haven’t seen before, I know I am exactly where I should be.
“Thank you, Lord, for the reassurance that you do have a plan for me even though I can’t see it fully.”

Just the other day.

I have somewhere to be and quickly. I have a career on the go, errands to run, and a social life brewing. Finally. But my husband’s brother has just been diagnosed with cancer. He is too young to have a staring contest with Death. My husband knows this and I feel like I’m losing him to the fog that cancer brings to a family.
I find I’m losing focus, and driving distracted is never a good thing. In the midst of my own fog, I am jolted by a sight that only my city can bring.

I see a very tall man, dressed in very used clothes, with his hands placed like props in his coat pockets. And I cannot believe this, but he is dancing down the street sidewalk! Alone! I can’t see earphones to suggest he’s listening to music, which makes the scene even more amusing. He looks like the type of fellow who might not make his rent this month, or who finds his second home at the local liquor store. But he has not a care in the world, and is skipping Fred Astaire style down the sidewalk! I look to see if passersby will stop and stare. Instead, they just casually pass—him—by.

In the moment it takes my car to speed by, he’s gone. But I laugh. Incredulously. And shake my head and continue to laugh. Later, I try to describe the scene to others, but the story falls flat and I’m convinced I was the only audience member for whom the movie was meant. For a moment, life is less blurry and a precious moment of clarity sweeps in.
“Thank you, Lord, for the reminder that ALL are God’s children and that you came to this earth to notice the unnoticed.”


They may not seem like much to an outsider, but these ordinary people give room for extraordinary commentary on life. They are gifts to me that come in little drops of joy and winks from God that seem to say, “I see you. Now do you see me?”