*This was originally an essay for English, but I changed it around a little bit since there were certain criteria I had to meet for the essay. This is more personal and more of a freely written version of the assignment.
Each year, my church’s Bible Quizzing team takes a trip to some Free Methodist College or University within the United States to compete in the National competition. Bible Quizzing, despite its name, is not some monotonous pursuit where a bunch of “Jesus freaks” assemble in a room and take a test about a guy who lived through a flood, or spoke to a burning bush, and who has long been deceased, or the One who was crucified and resurrected over 2000 years ago. In reality, it’s an intensely competitive, Biblical, legs-always-sore, Jeopardy-like, trivia game. It forces you to sit on a small, electronic seat pad on a chair, which is connected to a fancy and difficult to read box with numbers and lights, so you can jump off of it after a Quizmaster, someone in charge of deeming you either worthy or unworthy of 20 points, reads a complicated and specific question about a New Testament book which you have been studying all year. You soar off your pad at the precise moment in an attempt to make your light come on next to the number one, which is essentially code for, “I have faster reflexes than you,” just to search the innermost parts of your brain to find key words amidst the numerous books you have memorized from this year and years prior, to answer the question posed to you, all in 20 seconds. Basically, “jump first and know the answer.” I often compare it to the Olympics, except with superior companionships and enduring benefits. It is one of the most extreme and rewarding undertakings a young person can engage in.
My first year as a Quizzer, we took a trip to Greenville, Illinois for Nationals. I had assorted feelings of elation, excitement, nervousness, apprehension, and contentment. After a two day drive, we arrived on the small, jail-like campus in the little-known town. . As I sat in the warm, congested van, I felt a knot forming in my stomach. I was tired and nervous, and all I wanted to do was go home and crawl in my warm bed in my own house. I searched the busy campus for any familiar sight. The recognizable faces of competitors from my Conference, the scent of flowers, the sound of rain on the roof, and the taste of summer reassured me.
The first day was exciting and disappointing and beautiful and horrible. Competitively, I did well, making it into the second round of individuals, and my team, although weak and not very prepared, survived our first day of Round Robin with a respectable record. I was filled with pride in myself, but also dissatisfaction and regret. My friend and teammate had met a companion from another state. They had a lot in common, much more than my teammate and I had, and I was worried. I was delighted that she was making new friends, that is, in fact, one of the greatest pleasures of Quizzing, encountering new people from cool places, and from places not unlike yours’. But, I was also frightened. I was terrified that maybe she liked her better, terrified that I would become obsolete. She was my one close friend on the trip, everyone else was older, more experienced, more mature, and more affable. As the day grew longer, I felt as if I was the irritating younger sister who never leaves you alone, despite all of the subtle glances and passive words thrown her way, so I started to spend time alone. Spending time alone is not always a bad thing, because, sometimes, in the silence, you learn and you grow. You hear God’s voice and feel His love. However, at that time, I felt alone, because being the youngest one among the group was difficult, especially when you are obnoxious and immature, and even though every day my dad bought me a Hershey’s Almond Bar and a Dr. Pepper to say, “hey, I love you, and I will always be here for you whenever you need it,” I wasn’t sure I believed it. Besides, hanging out with my dad made me feel even more juvenile and small.
The next day, our team finished the Round Robin tournament and had a respectable standing for the Double Elimination tournament that would take place the following days. Throughout the rest of that day and the next, my teammate and I continued to grow apart, and I began to withdraw from her new little group. Our team was struggling through the tournament, and I blamed her. I had worked hard all year; I had virtually all of 1 and 2 Corinthians memorized, and my teammates didn’t know anything, so I pushed relentlessly. I told them to study harder and jump faster. This resulted in more bitterness and tension. By the middle of the week, I was exhausted. My legs were aching, I was sleep deprived, and I had underwent a myriad of emotions, which I was having difficulty handling. During those days, many voices were raised, and many tears were shed.
Later that evening, our church walked into the sanctuary of the on campus church to be greeted by the aroma of candles and the sound of the worship band quietly playing the week’s theme song, “Salt and Light.” This was the annual testimony service, a special time when Quizzers told their stories to their teammates and opponents. As the song came to a close, my heart began to drop, and the memories of the previous days came flooding back like an all-consuming wave, suffocating the last breath of air inside my lungs, drowning me in a surge of pain. My throat began to swell, and my eyes began to water. Thankfully, the Nationals director stood up to introduce the service, pulling me away from my memories. One by one, Quizzer after Quizzer strode to the front of the sanctuary, prepared to share their stories about the impact all of us have had on them, and the encouragement they have received. Their stories changed my life. That year had been a struggle for me, I had just finished sixth grade, which was a difficult year for me. I had come from a small elementary school of 300 to a class of 300. I didn’t know anyone in my class, and because my school does this “community” thing, nobody in my community came from my elementary school. In short, I had spent a lot of time alone during lunches and during group projects. (That also continued throughout my entire Middle School career, but that is a story for another time) I made I few “friends,” but I later found out that they were using me for my brain and my intelligence, not my friendship and kindness. I eventually began to act out for attention, speaking at the wrong moments, talking loudly during the quietness, or just acting crazy around other people. As I listened to those stories that evening, I had sobering moments. I learned that if the feeling of wanting to kill oneself or needing to escape through the cutting of one’s skin, could be overcome, than my struggles too could be overcome. I pledged that I would fix my relationship with my friend, and I would start to work on my self-control (that did have a part in the breaking of my relationship with my teammate). I promised myself that I would no longer take my friendships for granted, nor would I care what others thought of me, because I had friends, and although I am not the most popular, I have true friends who genuinely care about me. I vowed to live my life, regardless of who liked me and who didn’t.
The next day proved to be a fight. My team was eliminated, finishing fifth in the nation in our division. Decent, but not what I had desired. my teammate and I began to mend and strengthen our relationship. I had blamed her for some things that had happened to me, because I wasn’t ready to face the reality of my mistakes or to acknowledge my flaws. There were tears and apologies, and eventually, there were hugs and forgiveness.
That week changed my life. I gained confidence in my abilities as a Quizzer and experience as a competitor. I started to recognize that occasionally, a teammate needs a little encouragement and pushing, but I also learned how far is too far. I became aware that winning isn’t everything, and losing is okay. Through the “nice jobs” and the “good tries” I have been taught that Quizzing is the most wonderful sport, because even when you lose, your competition never ceases to cheer you one, smile, and congratulate you. They are always there if you need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen, as many of them, both teammates and competitors, were that week. Bible Quizzers truly are one big family. Quizzing pressures you to be better, better at competing and better at life. Rivalry is good, and winning is fun, but friendship is more rewarding. Friendship, as I discovered during the week, is not something to take for granted; it’s not a cup of water to quench a thirst. It’s a spring which, when fully submerged in its goodness, brings happiness and joy. It’s a wonderful gift which should be approached with the same love that Jesus demonstrated to us when He hung on the cross for the sinner. I learned that I am never too old for a daddy-daughter date, whether I am three, thirteen, or thirty, and even on those days when my life is more chaotic than a supermarket before a snowstorm, there is always time for a Father- daughter date. I learned to trust the Creator of the world in the midst of a storm because He is the only thing that never falters, and when I feel like David standing in front of Goliath, I can call on my Rock to save me, because God is bigger than all my struggles. And, although I still struggle with self-control and the want for attention, I am continually working on it. So. for those whom I have hurt, in particular my teammate, those I have embarrassed, those I have offended, or those whom I have wronged, I am sorry. And to Quizzers everywhere, thanks. Thanks for sharing your stories with complete strangers, and thanks for always being there. Each and every one of you have changed my life, whether you know it or not, and whether I have actually met you or not. Thanks to that trip, I have learned to dance in the rain, sing in the storm, value what’s been given before it is taken, and that the most stunning, most extraordinary things need rain, and sometimes cracks, to grow and prosper. When I pulled out of the parking lot in front of Pearce Church to depart for the small town of Greenville, Illinois, I was young and unaware, but when I returned, I had been taught about the world. I was shown that life is pain and heartbreak and monsters under the bed, but it is also teddy bears and flowers and ice cream.