Seven Years

It’s been a long seven years. But, they have been unimaginably beautiful, painful, wonderful, disappointing, exciting, and indescribable. I have learned so much about myself and others. I have struggled, and I have overcome the struggles. I have changed as a person. I have become better, and I have taken chances. And all of this is because of Quizzing. 

I started Quizzing in 6th grade because it looked interesting and it was a competition, which is something I enjoy but don’t get a lot of chances to do because I don’t play sports. I never thought that it would teach me so much. Yeah, it taught me how to memorize entire books of the Bible, jump off quiz seats at speeds so fast it hardly looks like I moved, anticipate what the Quizmaster is going to say before he or she says it, scan my brain for a word or phrase, amidst a million words and phrases, that answers one specific question, and spit out an answer in 20 seconds or less. And few of these skills are going to be very useful outside of a Quizzing environment. But, it has also taught me so much more. 

Throughout high school, I have struggled with friendships and have wrestled with what the real definition of a friend was. My friends and I have always had a “What was the math homework? Do you want to be my lab partner? How do you do this problem?” type of relationship. We have never really had a “What can I do to support you? Do you want to grab coffee and talk? How are you really doing?” type of relationship.  And for the most part, that was okay for me. I really only ever needed them for homework help. I have my own way of dealing with issues and things I’m struggling with, and I don’t usually need anyone to help me figure it out, fix it, or listen to me complain about it. But, one time, I did. And I went looking for a friend to listen. Not to respond, or fix things, or to feel sorry for me. Just to listen to me and encourage me. But there was no one. My friends were too busy going to the mall together without me, or going over to each others house to practice band music, or working out each other’s problems to listen to mine. (And I don’t think they did it on purpose. They are busy, we don’t have a lot of classes together, and they just forget that I need help too. And it’s partially my fault for never asking them, but I had never felt that they would even if I had asked. We never really had that kind of relationship. It was difficult for them to support me when I made decisions about my class schedule that they didn’t like, why would I think the would support me with something real?). But, that one time I really needed a friend- the time where my usual routine of working things out didn’t work, the time when I just needed someone to listen without judgment or response, when I just needed someone to be there, and provide encouragement- that time, I went to one of my Quizzing friends. Because, when I talked to her, I never felt judged, or unimportant, or like my problems didn’t matter. I’d never felt that she didn’t want to hear them or wouldn’t support me through them, regardless of how big, or small, they were. I felt that she would listen and respond with encouragement and prayer not judgement and a solution. And I began to realize that such supportive people do exist, and that friendship is more than just asking for help with homework. I had never realized I was missing out on anything until I realized I needed that one thing I was missing. And that made me realize that I deserved better, and that better existed. So, thanks to her for always being there consistently. For listening to every problem I have. Whether it’s something small like a difficult class, or whether it’s something larger like a problem with a relationship. Because she was my first true friend and she truly taught me the meaning of friendship. And I know I can go talk to any Quizzer, whether I know them that well or not. And even if I only see them once a week, or once a month, or even once a year, I can talk to them as if we have known each other our whole lives. Quizzers have taught me the true meaning of friendship, and have shown me that true friends exist and I do deserve them. And they’ve taught me the true meaning of a Christian community. Because, for a while, I didn’t feel like I had one. 

My competition has taught me how to persevere. How to continue despite failure. Because there have been so many times when I could quote the material word for word, backwards and forwards, and in two different languages, and I have still come home from the tournament empty handed. And that hurts, because I set goals for myself, and when I don’t reach them it hurts. But, despite all that, my competitors continued to encourage and support me. They have always smiled, laughed, and encouraged. They’ve never judged me based on how much or how little I know. They have given me a reason to set goals for myself. And they have shown me how to win with humility and lose with grace. And that means a lot, because it helps me to continue despite the failure. And they’ve helped me learn to embrace failure. I have found ways of learning from my failures and accepting that I am not going to reach every goal I set for myself, but I can learn from that and allow it to change me for the better. They’ve allowed me to fail in a completely loving, supportive environment so I can one day reach my biggest goals in life regardless of the amount of support I may or may not receive. 

My coaches have taught me so much about life. I have never once felt pressured by them to do anything. I was never once told I had to learn a certain amount of material or say a certain number of quotes. They encouraged me in whatever I chose to do, and they continued to ensure that Quizzing was fun, and was an activity open to anyone and everyone regardless of skill, talent, or motivation to study. They’ve taught me that I learn best by encouragement and by setting my own goals. They have helped me come to the realization that for me, the competition is what will motivate me to study and prepare, but that winning isn’t everything and I can still have fun whether I win or lose. And the most important part of Quizzing is the relationships-with God and with others. 

The younger Quizzers have shown me that one of my gifts is helping and encouraging others. Because I’ve been the young Quizzer who has felt that the older ones didn’t like me or want to talk to me. And I never want them to feel like that. I love it when they come to me asking for help on how to jump faster, memorize better, motivate themselves more, or win more often. But I love it even more when they confide in me. When they come to me with their problems, regardless of how small of insignificant they may seem to me. I loved it when they chose to be in my group for a Youth Group gaame. Because, I have realized that I love spending time with them, and I want to be sure that they know they are not alone. They have reminded me what passion is. They have such a passion for Quizzing and for life. Hanging out with them allows me to have an escape from the busy and stressful life of a high school senior.

For a while, I struggled to find out who I was. Society was telling me thatI had to be a certain way and fit into a certain “box.” And I didn’t fit. I didn’t enjoy the things I was told I should or participate in the things I was told I should. I wasn’t good at the things I was supposed to be good at. I watched my friends, and it seemed to me like they fit society’s boxes perfectly. And I didn’t. So, for a while, I was confused and ashamed. I thought I wasn’t “right” or “good.” But, because of Quizzing, I have learned that nobody fits into society’s boxes, even if it appears that they do, and that’s okay. Because that’s what makes us unique. It’s okay for me to nerd out about chemistry and also love  football. It’s okay for me to love reading for pleasure and also play a sport. (And for those who don’t think Synchronized Swimming is a sport, meet me at the pool at 5 o’clock.) It’s okay for me to memorize Scripture for fun and also have a passion for science. It’s okay for me to be a  stereotypical “nerd” and not be in band. Because I can’t be explained by words or numbers. I can’t be fit into a box. And I’ve learned that’s okay. Because I’ve met so many others like me. So many diverse people with different interests and stories. So may interesting characters with so many different traits. All of whom are beautiful and amazing people. None of whom fit into a box, but all of whom have an amazing identity, even if they, like me, are in the process of discovering who they are. And all of those people have stood by me as I have, and continue to, discover myself. They have allowed me to discover myself without judging me while I was, and am, in the process.

I have had the pleasure of serving on a planning team for a service project for Nationals. And this has helped me to discover that I have the gift of service. It has helped me to strengthen this quality in myself by giving me an avenue to use it. It has allowed me to fulfill one of my life long goals- going on a missions trip. Because I have been given the opportunity to go on an amazing trip and spread my passion for Quizzing in Kenya. And I would never have considered this if Quizzers had not allowed me to leave my comfort zone without fear of judgement. And if they hadn’t helped me realize that going on a missions trip was something I felt God calling me to do. And if they hadn’t made me feel 100% comfortable around them by allowing me to be myself with judgement. 

I have become so much more comfortable with who I am. I feel confident enough around Quizzers that I can let my whole crazy, nerdy, amazing self show. I am encouragingly pushed out of my comfort zone, which has led me to discover that I am more comfortable than I thought. I took chances because I knew I would never be judged for them. I have discovered my true identity. I’m more than just, as my bio on every social media site says, “Gates Chili Class of 2016. Free Methodist Bible Quizzer. Synchronized Swimmer. Science Nerd. Daughter of the One True King.” Yes, I am all those things. But I have also learned that I am kind, loving, encouraging, helpful, and so much more. I have a personality and a soul. I’m more than my grades, or my Quizzing ability, or my Synchronized Swimming skill. And Quizzing has helped me so much to discover who I am beyond just what’s on the surface and beyond what society says I should be. And it’s made me feel so much better about who I am. It’s allowed me to accept myself and my abilities. And it has helped me identify and accept my weaknesses, without allowing me to stop working on improving myself. 

And I do have weakness, and I fail, a lot. But I’ve come to accept them and discover that I am more than my weaknesses and failures. Because last weekend, we had a tournament. And just like a lot of other tournaments these last seven years, and particularly this year, I failed to get into individual finals, and my team failed to place. Despite the fact that I had the material memorized word for word. And it hurt, a little. Because it’s my senior year, and potentially my last chance to make it into finals. And I went into the second to last quiz of the day feeling discouraged. Because I knew I had failed to make it into finals, and our team would fail to place. Even if we won that quiz, we wouldn’t have been able to place. And we didn’t win. In fact, we lost. 240 to 40. And I knew that was coming, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. So, I wasn’t mad or disappointed, or at least not more than normal. But, I’m competitive and I like winning. And by this point in my Quizzing career, I had hoped I would be better than I am. So, I wasn’t really sad, more just disappointed. But, despite all that disappointment, I was able to leave the room smiling. Because the Quizmaster said something to me, or rather about me, that gave me encouragement despite the disappointment I was experiencing. Before the Quiz, we were joking with the timekeeper about giving those she liked more than 20 seconds to answer. I jokingly asked her to give me 30 seconds because I would probably need it. And the Quizmaster said something like, “oh yeah, we really like her and she’s really sweet, but she doesn’t need 30 seconds. She usually gets the correct answer in before 15.”* And those words were so small, and the Quizmaster probably didn’t even realize how much they would impact me. But they meant a lot. Because, at that moment, I realized that both Quizzers and coaches saw more in me than just my Quizzing ability. They saw my personality. They noticed my kindness that I have tried, but sometimes struggled, to demonstrate to teammates and competition. (Because looking at the way some of my teammates and I interact, it would seem like I am an unkind person. But really, we have a weird relationship and that’s how we show we love each other.) And those words also meant that he acknowledged that I was a good Quizzer, even if I’m not top 6 in the nation or even in the Genesis Conference. And that meant a lot, because I’m the kind of person who likes to be good at what I do, and I like to feel successful in everything I put my mind to. And it has felt like I haven’t been successful at Quizzing these past seven years. And it meant even more because his kids, although some of my greatest friends, are also some of my biggest competition. And they have been winning almost every month since 6th grade. But, the acknowledgment he gave me, even though it was small and half jokingly, still meant so much. 

Because of these past seven years, I have learned so much about who I am. I have developed as a person. I have become comfortable with myself and I have learned so much about life. I’ve grown and matured. I’ve developed life long, ever lasting relationships with both God and with other like minded teens. I’ve met some amazing people who will forever be some of my best friends. And for that, I will forever be grateful. Because, over these past seven years, I have developed such a passion for Quizzing, and it has meant, and will continue to mean, so much to me. 

*the situation really happened, and the quote was accurate, although paraphrased for comprehension and length purposes. 

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