“If you could go back three years ago, to when you first started speech and debate, what advice would you give yourself?”
Normally, my answer to this question would be routine. I’d put on a know-it-all-coach attitude, and give the 10 step process on how to succeed in speech and debate. I’d list the common pitfalls for all novices, describe and demonstrate correct “popping”, and go to great lengths explaining the need for deep character development in interps.
Humorous Interpretation finalists... goofing off one last time.
However, halfway through Nationals, my final competing tournament, it became clear to me that all those “how-to-be-a-great-interper-tips,” although extremely helpful, were not my most valuable lessons. Yes, I had learned so much regarding acting and public speaking skills. Yes, I had been blessed with many achievements and wins. And yes, I had even been given coaching opportunities and chances to share my speeches outside of the league. But as I pondered the question my friend Katherine had posed to me, the reality of how unimportant those lessons and achievements were suddenly became clear. At the end of the day, the lesson I have learned most is not how to give the best impression of Snow White or an Italian hand-mirror. The most important lesson I learned, and what I would go back and tell myself if I could, is described in one word: Surrender.
Surrender in regards to speech and debate came into play the first day of my first tournament. At that time, the message of the best-selling book “Do Hard Things” was my greatest passion. After all, I was only in speech and debate because it was a “hard thing.” So I wanted to share my passion with others by writing a speech about it. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I went into it with the wrong attitude. I believed I was going to wow everyone with my charm, knowledge, and skill. I was positive I would knock every other competitor off their feet and win an easy 1st place in one try. (Proverbs 16:18 anyone?)
That first speech was the worst I have ever given. I went 4 minutes over time, had dozens of stumbles, burst out crying, and experienced several memory glitches so long that I nearly walked out. I had failed, miserably. But as I found a private corner and sobbed my heart out, that day marked the beginning of my journey to surrender. God forced me to see my utter inadequacy. He showed me how impossible it is to do anything without His strength. And He asked me to completely surrender any and every speech I would give from then on. Through my tears, I promised I would.
But as the tournaments and years rolled on, I have realized surrender is not a one-time commitment. It is constant, even daily. Every speech I have performed since that day has been soaked in prayer. Each has its own story, for each had to be individually surrendered.
I have also come to realize that surrender goes far beyond speech and debate. Yes, I’ve known that for a long time, but my final tournament pressed it even deeper into my heart. For Nationals was extremely difficult. My speeches, relationships, future, as well as my emotional, physical, and spiritual life all were attacked and pushed to their limits. Being the complete drama queen that I am, I just wanted to find my pillow and cry. Yet through every moment of that tournament, I could hear a still small voice whispering, “Surrender.” And as I surrendered, God poured out undeserved blessings upon me.
So as my years of competitive speech and debate have come to an end, if you were now to ask me what I would go back and tell myself, this would be my answer:
Surrender. From the moment you begin considering topics to the time to give your final performance, surrender it all to Christ. Don’t say a quick prayer and then delve into writing your speech. Refuse to pen a single word until God has given you clear guidance. Andrew Murray says, “We ask God first to bless our feeble efforts, instead of absolutely refusing to go unless God goes before us.” Give God the pen long before you sit to write. Allow Him to mold your speeches and your own life story. Never hold anything back from Him. Never think you are the best or that you know the best. Give him your speeches, your debate rounds, your friendships, and your life.
Surrender to Him, remembering that the harder the battle, the stronger the pain, the deeper the ache… all the more complete and fulfilling is the victory found in Christ.
Overwhelmed by yet another blessing.