Only hours before the awards ceremony at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference, I crossed paths with Julie at the Cloud Cafe. Although I’d received a positive critique from Dr. Donn Taylor the day prior, I had low expectations of placing in this year’s poetry contest and I was disappointed — not in the assumed outcome, but by the fact that I was…well, disappointed. Why did the award mean so much? Did it mean too much? Would a loss deter me from the path of poetry?

God, through Julie, helped me to see how I was on the cusp of believing the lie that a piece of paper could validate my writing—to myself and to others. God alone stirs this heart to communicate and takes the work to places of His making. I simply need to be obedient (is there anything simple about obedience?)

Tears flowed. Hope arose. God’s Validation Gratefully Received. Win or Lose.

Later than evening, as Eva Marie Everson announced the winners for the poetry category, peace sheltered my heart from any possible disappointment. And then I heard these unexpected words: In first place, the winner is…“The One” by Cathy Baker.

Can I be honest? Hearing your name called, while thunderous applause erupts from those you most respect, is an unforgettable experience. And yet, while making my way to the stage I recalled a quote written in my journal many years ago:

“It matters not if the world has heard or approves or understands…the only applause we’re meant to seek is that of nail-scarred hands.” ― B.J. Hoff

To God be the glory.


Not What My Hands Have Done


Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

These guilty hands are raised, filthy rags are all I bring
And I have come to hide beneath your wings
These holy hands are raised, Washed in the fountain of your grace
And now I wear your righteousness

Thy work alone oh Christ can ease this weight of sin
Thy blood alone, oh Lamb of God, can give me peace within
Thy Love to me, oh God, not mine oh Lord to Thee
Can rid me of this dark unrest and set my Spirit free

Thy grace alone oh God to me can pardon speak
Thy power alone oh Lamb of God can this sore bondage break
No other work save thine, no other blood will do
No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through

I praise the God of grace; I trust his truth and might
He calls me his, I call him mine, My God, my Joy, my Light
My Lord has saved my life and freely pardon gives;
I love because he first loved me, I live because he lives.

Aaron Keyes