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Christian writer from Kelowna wins award

Loraine Kemp, a lifelong resident of Kelowna, has won first prize in a national writing competition for her non fiction short story entry, titled “Don’t Look Down.”

Kemp, who is also the illustrator of another book titled “Tabasco The Saucy Raccoon,” has received numerous writing awards in the past, including first place in the Williamette Conference contest in Oregon and two mentorship opportunities at the B.C. Festival Of Arts in Surrey and  Nelson.

Kemp’s story, which traces her faith journey through he battle with breast cancer, took top honours in the age 21 and up category in The Word Guild’s Fresh Ink writing contest for novice writers.

In this all-Canadian contest, four never-before-published writers have been awarded prizes, representing a group of emerging writers ready to augment the already large number of award winning Canadian writers who work from a Christian world view.

Kemp’s first place prize is free registration to Write! Canada, Canada’s largest Christian writers’ conference to be held June 13 to 15 in Guelph, Ont. It has a value of $400.

Each year, The Word Guild, a Canadian association of writers and editors who are Christian, recognizes the talents of aspiring writers who have never been published. Prizes are given in two groups: 14 to 20 and 21 and up.

Said one of the judges about this year’s entries: “As a judge for Fresh Ink, I was encouraged by the entries I saw. They showed ambition, hard work, passion and talent. If the Christian community can offer the right support and encouragement to these young writers, we will definitely get a great—and Christ-honouring—return on our investment a few years from now.”

As for Kemp, she is very excited about winning her award. “I couldn’t have done it without God’s guidance and inspiration, and the help of my friends who are also writers. But I am more pleased about the fact that a few others may now receive encouragement and inspiration form my words,” she said.

Contest entrants were asked to write on the theme “Live and Breathe the Written Word,” and could submit fiction, non fiction, article or poetry genres. The Word Guild consists of more than 32 writers and editors across Canada who write from a Christian perspective and publish their works in a variety of genres. For more information about the organization, check out the website www.thewordguild.com.

Kemp's contest story submission is as follows, titled Don't Look Down!

I stood in front of the tee and gaped at the deep gorge ahead, part of the famous eleventh hole. On the far side, sparse fir trees clutched the bank that rose to the green a hundred and fifty yards away. Conquering the hole seemed impossible.

“What the…? That green’s no bigger’n a postage stamp!” said Matt, a friend of my husband, John. The foursome had curbed their colorful language on my account.

This year, the guys’ golf weekend in the Kootenays occurred six days after my breast cancer diagnosis. At first John refused to go, but I argued that nothing would change until the surgery still a week away. He then insisted if he went, I also had to go. So there I was, caddy and bartender for the guys.

“Twenty bucks says your ball is creek-bound,” said Tom.

“You’re on!” Matt grabbed an iron and stalked toward the tee. “Hey Loraine, heads up. I’ve gotta lighten Tom’s wallet here.”

I returned to my cart and awaited their shots. They had to skyrocket the ball so it would drop with very little roll onto the tiny green, a daunting shot.

Five minutes later, after every ball had ricocheted around the gorge to raucous laughter and suppressed curses, Matt handed over a twenty.

I watched the guys enjoy themselves. Would I ever be able to laugh again with such reckless abandon?

Cancer.

It changed everything: relationships, future plans, the taste of food. Anxiety gripped my stomach for the thousandth time since the diagnosis.

Continuing the verbal barbs, the guys returned to their carts. I gazed at the flag flapping in the breeze as if it were waving a saucy goodbye.

My competitive nature⎯a result of being raised with five brothers⎯stirred within me. I’d golfed enough to know I’d forever kick myself if I didn’t attempt the hole. Possibly showing up the guys wouldn’t feel so bad, either.

“Hey guys, can I try?”

They exchanged smirks.

“Of course. Do it!” Matt grinned.

The next group approached. I had seconds to prepare. Snatching a club and an old ball from John’s bag, I trotted up to the tee. The guys hushed. I felt them watching.

What was I thinking? Did I need any more reasons to be anxious? That gorge was enormous. I took one practice swing to calm my nerves while I repeated my golf mantras in my head: address the ball, transfer my weight and follow through. But it was no good⎯all I envisioned was the gorge.

A calm clear voice penetrated my thoughts: Loraine, don’t look down. As with your cancer diagnosis, you can seek Me, or pay attention to all that could go wrong. Look for Me beyond the gorge.

I knew it was God.

Only He could break through my anxiety once I was on a roll.

Five years of health issues crowned by a cancer diagnosis had drained the fight out of me. “Okay,” I whispered. “I choose You, God.”

Serenity settled inside me as I visualized the green beyond the gorge. I swung my club back and with a whoosh and a crack, shot the ball off the tee.

“Whoa! Nice hit!” yelled John.

My ball sailed high over the gorge, dropped on the green, and rolled to within a few feet of the flag. A breeze could have knocked me over.

“What the…?” said Matt.

A weight lifted off me. I knew then I was not alone with my cancer.

The following week, I sat in a hospital gown on a gurney, rocking and hugging myself minutes before surgery. Anxiety hunted for a weakness, but I kept repeating God’s words. I felt like a kitten clinging to an oak tree in a storm.

After the successful surgery I was wheeled to my room where a card from my church awaited. The front showed a kitten sleeping peacefully. It was God’s assurance of His presence.

During my subsequent radiation and treatments, people constantly asked, “How can you be so calm?” I answered with my favorite Bible verses: Philippians 4:6–7. “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer, petition and thanksgiving, present your requests before God and His peace that transcends all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”

Over the following two years, I told many about my don’t-look-down message from God. But the most meaningful time came when tragedy struck again.

One week, my brother Murray had to stay home from work with severe leg and foot pain. While I was helping him prepare meals, he complained of difficulty swallowing. I dragged him to his doctor, and wasn’t surprised when Murray was quickly admitted to hospital.

After he endured several days of procedures, I arrived to find curtains drawn around his bed. Then a doctor backed out, saying, “Sorry. I wish I had better news.”

Dread washed over me. I took Murray’s hand. Seeing his tears instantly made me cry.

Fear and disbelief lined his face. “It’s cancer! They think it started in my esophagus and has spread to my liver. I have clots in my leg.” He gripped my hand as if it were the only thing keeping him from falling into a chasm.

Anxiety once again clenched my stomach.

Details of those moments are etched in my memory: the terror in his eyes, the steady beep of his monitor, and tears dripping off his chin making dark spots on his blue hospital gown.

We cried and clung to each other. I prayed for strength for Murray, then God’s message on the golf course came to mind. If I could bring some comfort to my brother, it would make sense of the turmoil I’d gone through.

“Murray, remember when I was diagnosed with breast cancer?”

He nodded, eyes red and weary.

“I was given a message from God that I’m sure was for you, too.” I told him about God’s words and the Bible verses that gave me strength.

“So, every time I see you I’m going to remind you, don’t look down, Murray! Whatever happens, don’t look down!”

That was the last time I saw Murray cry. He bravely organized his affairs with his work and family.

Tests in the following days confirmed our worst fears; his cancer was far beyond treatment. He was soon transferred to a hospice house.

Inside the hospice gazebo on a warm afternoon, amid roses and trumpet vines, our family sat with Murray. We had each staggered under the onslaught of shock and emotions, but we’d learned from coping with other family health issues to be positive and cheerful. Murray joked and laughed and our large boisterous gathering drew raised eyebrows from others.

When Murray heard that out-of-town relatives planned to gather at my brother’s home, his jaw dropped. “What? You can’t leave me out of the fun!”

After we consulted the nurse about his pain medications, the outing was planned.

Moving Murray was no easy task, but with many hands, he was carried into and out of the vehicle and his wheelchair was transported. Eventually he sat by the pool, surrounded by his adoring fans: his mother, wife, two daughters, four brothers, two sisters, and numerous in-laws and nieces and nephews. As usual, the group was lively.

“Loraine, do your hockey-mom whistle to get everyone’s attention,” he murmured, smiling. Normally Murray’s booming voice would have been enough, but it was missing that day.

I let loose a shrill whistle. Everyone silenced and looked at us.

“Hey, get over here,” said Murray. “I have something to tell you.”

The family gathered around, with Murray’s two daughters kneeling at his feet.

He took a deep breath to summon his strength. “When I was first diagnosed, Loraine told me a story. I want you to hear it, too.” He started off bravely but soon his voice was just a whisper. I filled in parts he’d either forgotten or was too weak to say.

“So, I want you all to know,” he said, words slurring, “I’ve never looked down. And I’m at peace. God knows what He’s doing. And…” He took a deep faltering breath. “I love you!”

Tears streamed down his daughters’ faces as they hugged him. Murray faded in and out of consciousness from then on.

The next day, surrounded by family, Murray passed away.

Years ago, I was angry with God for allowing so many trials in my life, but now I embrace 2 Corinthians 1:3–4. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

Because of what happened to me, I was able to write with confidence a Christian children’s novel that describes God as “an ever-present help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). But more importantly, I was able to help my brother die in peace.

And now, I never look down!

 

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