This is the tale of a young man who has shown me what it means to press on towards the goal. His story inspires me, and I pray it will inspire you as well!
The tale is about a young man who I will call “Clayton.” Clayton is a speech and debate student I have had the privilege to teach. To just look at him compete, you would think that he is one of those genius naturals who were born for the stage. His exuberance for performance stems from a genuine desire to make a difference, whether it be to bring others laughter or move them to tears, and it all comes from his love for God and for life itself.
Yet natural talent does not guarantee success, and Clayton felt the sting of not doing as well as he would have liked in competitive debate. Looming ahead of him was a special award that the league gives to students who go on to advance in each speech category and at least one debate category. Clayton wants that award.
When life intervened and he lost a debate partner, he switched to a different mode of debate — one that he had not trained for. But he jumped right in and competed in a tournament anyway. With a 1-5 record, Clayton finished near the bottom of the pack.
Now, had I been Clayton, that would have been the time that I would have done some serious soul searching, asking myself, “Is this event really for me?” In a short period of time I would have convinced myself that my calling and gifting from the Lord was not in the debate realm and would have found something else to do that didn’t result in me coming in the bottom of the pack. I’m bad that way. If something doesn’t come naturally to me, I have a tendency to give up and move on to something else.
I did that in grade school with art. One of my teachers praised the student next to me but told me that not everybody was destined to be an artist. So I decided then and there that I hated art and scrupulously avoided all art electives. Then in college I had to take an art course as part of my degree…and I put it off until my last semester. I believed that I wasn’t gifted at art; therefore, I avoided it.
Surprisingly, that art class ended up being one of my all-time favorite classes. I worked my tail off and spent hours on my projects — many more hours than my fellow students, in fact, as I learned that even a non-gifted person like myself could learn how to draw and paint. Suddenly I found that what I had believed about myself — that I was not ‘good’ at art — was a lie. If I hadn’t been forced to take that art class as a part of my degree, I would still be believing that lie even today.
Clayton didn’t believe the lie. Instead, he threw himself into learning his craft. He found a curriculum online and went through it step by step. He listened to debates on youtube and researched the topic. He wrote and revised his cases over and over again. He developed a strategy to spend his time building an affirmative case that was airtight, thinking that if he could win all three affirmative cases and just one negative (out of a total of six rounds), he would end up with a winning record and be one step closer to his goal (the special award).
The process wasn’t easy. All this work had to be done in addition to all his regular school work, which meant that he pulled at least two all-nighters, trying to get his cases just right, spotting and correcting any fallacies, finding applications to real life, and ensuring that he had a thesis that was concise and meaningful.
Clayton’s elbow grease paid off. At the very next tournament, less than one month later, he received a winning 4-2 record, finished in the top 40%, and is indeed one step closer to winning that special award!
When the going got tough, Clayton didn’t do what I would have done. He didn’t give up. He didn’t drop the whole event and move on to something else. Instead, he took charge of his learning and didn’t let one bad tournament derail his dreams. What a privilege it has been to watch his hard work and determination pay off, and how inspired I am to move ahead and take steps towards my dreams!
Which brings me to my point: what lie are you believing about yourself? Do you think you can’t homeschool your kids because you are “bad” at math? Do you think you can’t write that book because all your ideas are “bad?” Maybe you think that you couldn’t possibly be a teacher/firefighter/doctor/barista/fill-in-the-blank, even though you always wanted to, because someone told you that you couldn’t, and you believed them. Or you tried your dream, fell flat on your face, and gave up.
Take hope from Clayton, and take hope from the Lord, who loves you just as you are, whether you are a Christian or a Muslim, a Jew or an agnostic, a Hindu or a pagan. And if you are willing to open up that heart of yours to him, great secrets, more than you could possibly imagine, are in store for you!
9 However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
-1 Cor 2:9-10
The dreams of your heart are within reach…but they won’t be handed to you on a platter. Hardships will come. You may find yourself in the desert with the devil twisting scriptures around in your head, but hold fast. Don’t let momentary setbacks keep you away from the abundant life.
As Tom Landry once said, “Today, you have 100% of your life left.”
Like Clayton, make it count!