My heartfelt appreciation goes out to the many readers who saddled up and responded to our Mindful Midweek contest. It was difficult to pick three winners from this amazing batch of stories, parables and life lessons. Enjoy reading these remarkable and inspiring pieces, particularly if you’ve ever been bucked off your horse.

First Place, $500 Winner

One thing has always gotten me back in the saddle. It started 20 years ago when my beloved husband, father of our four children, had open-heart surgery and became disabled. Our eldest child was eight and I was traumatized, but it was up to me to hold our family together…so I did.

Life was very hard for the next 10 years when suddenly things got worse. Out of the blue, my spouse abandoned us. This totally knocked me for a loop. A divorce ensued and life felt meaningless. Heavy with emptiness. Suffocating.

Lashed with grief, despair and doubt, numb from wondering “what did I do wrong?” I sometimes wished for death, but clung to life for the sake of my children…which I knew meant that I had to be a good example for them, and grousing around, wallowing in misery, certainly was not.

So together we played a game. Called “What If-ing,” it goes like this:

1. Imagine that today is “the day after” every problem in the whole world has been solved.

2. Pretend that everything you’ve ever hoped for and dreamed of is now a reality.

3. Ask yourself: “What do I want to do next…?” and then listen – to yourself and each other – as you share what comes from your heart.

Besides learning a lot about my kids, just playing the game was a magic elixir for me. And still today, even playing alone gives me clarity and peace.

Christine Beems Shirley, AR

Second Place, $250 Winner

On 01 April 1970, I was shot in the chest while serving in the Republic of Vietnam: the bullet actually penetrated the neck of a fellow soldier, passing through and killing him and lodging in my upper right chest. Had it struck me directly, my name would be on that infamous “Wall.” As you can imagine, I was distraught over the circumstances, not the least of which was the death of my friend. While recovering in the hospital in Chu Li (and later in Japan), I was seriously contemplating my future and agonizing over the circumstances of life. A young medic, recognizing that I was in the depths of depression, asked the following question: “Did your friend die in vain, or did the Lord arrange it so that you could live long and give back to society?” I made myself a promise that I would give my all in service to my country, so that his death would not have been wasted. That was not the uptick, however, what happened next was: that same day, another patient was brought into the ward where I was. He had lost his hands to an explosion, and I was assigned to help him with tasks that he was unable to perform for himself. From the very first day, he never was sad, disappointed or otherwise down, and he encouraged me with jokes and stories about his wife and children. He infused an indomitable spirit, exhibited more grace than I could have ever mustered, and was a constant encouragement to all. His comment to me, when I was medically evacuated to Japan: “Remember, Marcus, there are those without the special gifts that God has given to you…and He expects you to share your gifts and talents with them.”

So, whenever I have a “down day,” I remember that I am certainly more blessed than many others, and it is MY DUTY, my right and my privilege to help uplift others. That task cannot be accomplished with a long face and a sad heart.

Marcus Ellis, Jr.

Walnut Grove, MS

[I gave Marcus a break on word count.]

Third Place, $100 Winner

Back in the Saddle

I could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and enlighten the kids on the cost of bacon, the best way to prepare it, and the need to share.

Then, a few disorienting and frightening seconds in October knocked me out of the saddle. I was in a car accident.

My biggest challenge has been sitting. Working, driving, and visiting family have been a pain, quite literally! In the depths of a depression, I pummeled my son with cruel words and sent him to his room. It was shameful. I was lower than I had ever been.

Then, I noticed something: the smell of my sister’s cheesecake, my son’s hilariously clever observation; a kind gesture by my boss; a happy leg-rub from my kitty.

I suddenly realized that my focus was too broad. I was looking out at the horizon, waiting impatiently for my destination, which was beyond the rise. It felt like a long and lonely journey.

Then, I pulled my focus into the immediate vicinity. There were wonderful people and things surrounding me…traveling with me on my journey. I found that when I could pay attention to each of those little blessings and truly appreciate and enjoy them, the mountains in the distance became closer without my realizing it.

I’m still on my journey, but I’m finally able to sit in the saddle for a bit. Eventually I’ll be back to galloping speed. But, for now, I’m enjoying the scenery.

Valerie Lancaster Chandler, AZ

Single Lines from Honorable Mentions, $50 Winners

“I didn’t get over it, but I’m moving ahead of it.”

Susan Edgar

Wilmington, DE

“You ask about falling off the horse? I think I pushed it over a cliff…with weights…into raging waters.”

Rachael Walker

Reno, NV

“In the past, I have had to get off my own ‘high horse’ before getting back on ‘the horse.'”

Paris Davis

Boise, ID

“I am surrounded by kind, loving people. And, once again, I see myself as one of them.”

Lisa Winge

Reno, NV

Thank you all for participating. Every one of you is a winner in my book.