In two recent monthly writing contests of the Portland Writers’ Mill, I have placed third. They were “Mania Mountain and the Valley of the Shadows,” an essay about bipolar disorder, in August 2020 (written to the prompt, “mountains and valleys,” and appearing in our newest anthology; see the News page for details), and “From the Valley of the Smoke,” a poem about the challenges of this year (written to the prompt “Beyond the Headlines, and it might be published in the 2021 collection). I’ve made 3rd so often with the Writers’ Mill, it seems like a pattern.
Three seems to be my magic number. I feel like I’m hearing through a megaphone the words of one-time football star Gale Sayers: God is first, others are second, and I am third. Simple, but profound. Mary Kay Ash, of the cosmetics corporation fame, said, “First God, then family, then Mary Kay.” I used to wonder about the ambiguity between Mary Kay’s name and Mary Kay, the business. And although I’m even less into sports than into makeup, Sayers’ statement is closer to the goal I want to meet—my second priority being all people I may have any influence on in my life, and, thirdly, myself being more important than any business or boss. I understand the call of making a living, and I believe it’s usually good to be loyal to your company, but I don’t want to pursue any job or business that would cheapen or endanger my soul. I have to trust that if I put God’s plans first, He will take care of my needs.
A children’s song reiterates the point:
J-O-Y, J-O-Y, Tell me what it means,
Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between!
I bear witness that living out that simple formula really is the key to joy. Jesus (in whom the apostle Paul said dwells the fullness of the godhead bodily—Colossians 2:9) said the most important commandment is to love God with all one’s being, and the second, to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:30-31). Loving God becomes easy when I experience His love for me. Loving others, and loving myself, flows naturally from the same experience. Some people use the word “selflessness,” but that can be interpreted as not loving yourself. If you are harsh on yourself, can you really treat others with sincere kindness, or will you judge them as you do yourself? I prefer the complete formula expressed by “I am third.” No one should be left out. I need to let God love me through myself. It works if I get filled with God’s Spirit and let Him live in me.
My third place wins from the Portland Writers’ Mill (11 so far)
- October 2020, Beyond the Headlines: 3rd place, “From the Valley of the Smoke” (poem)
- August 2020, Mountains and Valleys: 3rd place, “Mania Mountain and the Valley of the Shadow” (essay)
- September 2019, The Days Dwindle Down to a Precious Few: 3rd place, “Done Soon” (essay)
- July 2019, Vacation Disasters, 3rd place, “After Ruby (novel snippet)
- August 2018, Victim Vs. Survivor, 3rd place, “Reaching Beyond Survival” (poem)
- August 2017, What If, 3rd place, “What if I Made a Living as a Writer?” (essay)
- July 2017, Art for Art’s Sake, 3rd place, “Slave” (poem)
- May 2017, Unspoken Bonds, “tied for 3rd place, “Secret Lives” (short story)
- January 2017, Be Inspired, 3rd place, “A Dark and Stormy Knight”
- September 2016, And Now What?, 3rd place, “As in Identical” (short story)
- June 2016, “Home,” tied for 3rd place, “Home was Where they Never Let Me In” (memoir with poem)
All other wins (for comparison—4 so far)
- June 2019, Distractions in Blue, 2nd place, “Any Color I Don’t Like” (poem)
- July 2018, Summer Solstice, 2nd place, “Some Call It a Cathedral (memoir)
- March 2017, tied for 2nd place, “The Arrival of Kitty” (short story)
- August 2016, Photo Inspiration, 1st place, “The Duprass” (short story)