the difference between winning and trying

A few weeks ago, my two older children participated in the local level Scripps Spelling Bee. They were competing among students grades 1-8, so I knew, at grades 3rd and 5th, they would have their work cut out for them in order to beat out fourteen year old Bee veterans.

They knew this going into the competition. They weren’t overly confident that they’d win the Bee. They knew there were hundreds of words that would be a challenge for them to study, remember and spell. This did not deter them. They wanted to do the Spelling Bee, because they wanted to try.

We attended the practice round a month or so ago to get everyone comfortable with the format of the Bee. Our kids learned about the exact rules for spelling, repeating, starting a word over and the CRUCIAL questions to ask before they would begin to spell a word.

We left that day even more excited about the real Spelling Bee. I guess you might even say we were abuzz with excitement.

On the day of the official Bee, we walked into a packed house. There were twice the kids who had attended the practice and it seemed that the parents had multiplied like a pair of Duggars. The place was brimming with nerves, excitement and parents anxious to see the efforts of their students rewarded.

My daughter Mae, usually very at ease and confident, took one look in the room and said, “Mom, I don’t feel so good.”

I nonchalantly assured her she would be fine and continued about the business of getting the kids signed in, my HEA membership verified, and all manner of coats, purses and books balanced in my arms. We found a seat and Mae continued to complain that her tummy hurt and that she wasn’t so sure about participating in the Spelling Bee after all.

As someone who dealt with her share of childhood anxiety, I tried to speak confidence into Mae’s troubled heart. I explained to her that it didn’t matter to me if she got out on her first word or won the whole thing. I love her no matter what. Her performance means nothing to me. It’s Mae that I love; not what she does or doesn’t do. (A truth I hope to instill into each of my children.)

Anyway, as fate would have it, when it was Mae’s turn to spell her first word, she faced the Announcer and was given the word ALSO. Mae skipped right past asking one of the questions (designed to encourage spellers to slow down and get their bearings) about the word’s origin, alternate pronunciations, use in a sentence or part of speech and she went straight into spelling the word.

The poor girl was as white as Cool Whip and her eyes looked panicked. She turned to face the judges and nervously began, “A-L……” (she tried swallowing and I could hear the dryness in her throat and mouth over the PA system). Instead of asking to begin the word again, she picked back up, “L-S-O. Also.”

The judges simultaneously looked at one another shaking their heads in the negative and gave her their prescribed response, “we’re sorry, that is incorrect. Please have a seat.”

Mae took her seat on the front row of the audience until the round ended and was dismissed to come and sit with me. She was still shaken and whitewashed when she stepped into the aisle beside me. She said “Mom, I knew that word. But my brain started to feel swirly and I couldn’t feel my legs.”

In that moment I knew my big girl had only gotten a bad case of the nerves. I was grateful she hadn’t locked her legs and fainted. (Her dad did that once from the back row of some choir risers in junior high…)

As her fretfulness began to wane, and relief that this moment was over for her began to sink in, I know Mae felt the relief of those anxious feelings leaving her body; but she also felt the disappointment of missing a word she knew like the back of her hand. She was extremely frustrated that she’d gotten stuck and ultimately dismissed from the Bee on such a simple word.


I’ve spent some time thinking about this event. I’ve considered how I want my kids to feel; how I hope to parent them through their struggles, defeats AND successes. I have contemplated the idea that I’ve nearly preached to them:

winning isn’t everything, but trying sure is…”

As I have allowed this phrase to percolate in my mind and heart over the past few weeks, I have begun to ask myself, “do I allow myself this same grace I hope to offer to my children?”

Do I cheer myself on just for trying?

Or do I mentally berate myself when I mess up, give up or Schrute-the-thing?

I can answer that. For most of my life, I have been guilty of some pretty harsh self-talk. I have had very black-and-white, all-or-nothing-at-all tendencies over the years. If I can’t achieve something with near perfection then why try at all? If I’m not going to win or be wildly successful at something, then what’s the point of even trying?

Friends, let me tell you, that’s a hard habit to break as a grown-up.


HOWEVER, that’s the real soul work I feel Christ calling me to this year. It can be messy and frightening at times. Like Mae, I feel my brain getting all swirly and sometimes, I can’t feel my legs. Yet, I press on. I keep moving.

Dreaming dreams isn’t for the faint of heart. Working for what He has called us to isn’t about the finish line, per se. It’s about staying the course, walking in His mercy and grace, and continuing to put one (slow, failing, human) foot in front of the other.


“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice  in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” {Romans 5:1-5}

Today, I’m praying that you will be reminded of this obtained access YOU have as a Christ-follower; that you, too, will standrejoice and ultimately realize that this work he has called you to, will in time, produce endurancecharacter, and HOPE!

The days may feel long, the wins and successes, few. But just-keep-swimming. God has given you a dream, a hope, a longing and desire. And he, my friends, will help give you the strength you need to keep-on-keeping-on. His Holy Spirit is alive in us, pursuing, pushing, empowering and propelling you. Rest in that today.


Mae’s older brother, Thomas stayed in the Spelling Bee until the ninth round and got out on the word “ritziness” and during a break we accepted our certificates and went on our way. We stopped at Sonic and accepted milkshakes as our consolation prizes for participating in the Bee.

With a few weeks under our belts and some earned perspective, we can all joke with Mae now about her crazy bout of nerves. The best part of all is that she is already anticipating next year’s Spelling Bee. This one little blip on her record of success, isn’t holding her back, it isn’t deterring her from ever trying again.

In fact, it’s just the opposite. It is spurring Mae on to work harder, get past the lies our brains and bodies tell us when we face our fears, and stand tall to try-and-try-and-try again.

Her fierce example is encouraging me “A-L-L-S-O.”

7 thoughts on “the difference between winning and trying

  1. Brenda says:

    I had one of those “my brain started feeling swirly and I couldn’t feel my legs” situations this week. I was ready to quit. Please tell Mae her perseverence encourages me to stand up and try again.


  2. Kathy Milligan says:

    What a positive post about perseverance….big thanks to you and Mae for the reminder!! And, I’m proud of her for looking forward to next year!


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