“I am not a sore loser. It’s just that I prefer to win. And when I don’t I get furious” Ron Swanson, Filibuster Episode, Parks and Rec
I am and have always been a sickly competitive person. I would love to say that I am getting better or really growing to let it go, but that would be a lie. Over the years my competitive nature has mellowed and matured, but at my very core I love winning and will do almost anything in order to do so.
With that preface, let’s talk about high school Elizabeth. She was awkward before it was cool. She didn’t have a high powered hair straightener, but didn’t know how to wear her hair curly. She was weirdly “cool” as only somewhat adjusted nerds can think they are. She lived at best in tier 2 (maybe 3) of the high school popular rankings and was mostly an over-achieving goodie-two shoe. Besides student council, art club, and AP classes she played tennis.
Now tennis was the outlet needed because well, I didn’t make the soccer team, but wanted to play a sport. The other girls were lifers from the country club (but the coolest least stereotypical club girls around), and I picked it up starting in 8th grade. Categorized as a subpar player at best I made the team. My mom was proud.
When you pair my sickly competitive over achieving spirit with not being naturally apt or as trained at something, it meant that tennis was frequently a growing experience waiting to happen. I learned a lot in those three years. I am not proud of a lot of my time on the court, but many of the lessons gleaned have stuck with me.
I played with some wonderful girls, but sometimes I acted like a jerk. My doubles partner was incredible. She always encouraged me, hit the consistent shot when I insisted on the low percentage flashy shot, she was faithful and frankly put up with me losing my cool, a lot. She also loved butterflies because they reminded her of God’s presence. Whenever we saw one on the court at a changeover or practice she would joyfully point it out as a beautiful reminder that God was there even in the silliness of playing tennis.
One time we were in a tight match against the Goliath of local high school tennis. We had never beat them or even come remotely close. This day though their game began to crack and we had our chance. I was on fire hitting aces. We were up a break. My partner played like a beast. I was jacked.
I hit the most beautiful serve. They returned it cross court. I nailed a backhand and began to close in on the net. They hit the ball at my partner, a prolific player at the net, and she did not move. Frantically, I attempted to chase down the ball to no avail. Infuriated, I bent over in anguish. This was our chance. This was our chance and SHE DID NOT MOVE. She just stood there like she didn’t care. Seething, I turned back around to face her. She looked at me smiling from ear to ear. I don’t know about you, but when I am angry the last thing I want to see is someone smiling at me. I want you to fuel my fire and get your pitchfork. I want you to go blindly with me towards the cause that I irrationally support with all my anger.
But no. She stared at me, smiling. I clinched my teeth as I stomped towards her like a two year old about to unleash a tantrum. She grinned ear to ear. I lowered my gaze ready to rip into my sweet, kind, not quite as sickly competitive as I partner.
“Did you see it?”, she asked. I couldn’t get words out without screaming or wanting to cry. So I muffled an angry “grrr…huh?” “Did you see it? The butterfly!”, she joyfully asked again. Inwardly (and probably outwardly) I reacted like the character Anger from the movie Inside Out. We lost that point because she saw a butterfly? We could lose the chance to slay Goliath because she saw a butterfly? My awesome amazing serve went to waste because she saw a butterfly? I could not form words. I froze. And then, I exploded.
Like I said, the tennis court was not always filled with my proudest moments. I went for it. “How could you let a butterfly stop you from playing? It is just a butterfly- in the spring. They are literally everywhere! We had a chance and because of losing that one point in the game we are going to lose. I will never have this chance again. Ever. Do you even care about this game? ect. ect.”
Now, like I said, not proud. I told her how I felt. I told her how I felt knowing exactly what butterflies reminded her of, the presence of God. They reminded her of the fact that the God that created the mountains and ants and the fluttering butterfly, cares about me. The God who created time and oceans, and stars was on the court with us. The God who knows me to my very core, is omnipotent, and almighty was there as I filled with rage. And still, I used my words as a pitchfork to pillage.
Her response to this day gives me chills. She looked at my dark narrowed eyes and with great conviction and grace said, “Elizabeth, sometimes what you’re looking at isn’t as important as what God is trying to show you.” And she got it right. I wanted so badly to win that one match that I missed the beauty God had for me. I grew so enthralled by the prospect of winning that I lost sight of what was truly important.
You see, it is easy to do that in life. I wish I could tell you that this day on the court was the last time I ever lost sight of what was important, but I can’t. If I don’t make a conscious effort filled with grace for myself, I will lose sight of God and all He plans for me. But when I chose to fight for the perspective that only God can provide, He shows up. He reminds me of truth. He gives me a small glimpses of His eternal perspective. I have to make a conscious effort to see the butterflies, but trust me when you start looking you will see them everywhere.