The National Spelling Bee finals aired on ESPN this past Thursday night, and we had a softball game.
No worries, though. Thank you, DVR! Bet you don’t know anyone else who DVR’d the Spelling Bee.
Those kids who compete, or rather, those adult-sized brains in kid bodies who compete, are fascinating to watch. Intelligence shines from their eyes. They each have their own mannerisms and habits as they carefully think through each word, some writing the word on the back of their hanging nametags, some writing it on their hands, some using their finger to invisibly write the word in the air, some remaining perfectly still until the very last second and then spitting out a string of perfectly correct letters before the buzzer sounds.
They always ask the usual questions, “Can I have the definition please? Can I have the language of origin? Can you use it in a sentence please?” And one kid even quipped, “Can you spell that for me, please?”
Even though the contestants may not have even heard the ridiculously difficult words before, they use the the answers to those questions as clues to help them figure out the correct spelling. For example, one of the contestants knew that because “quattrocento” was Italian in origin, and not Spanish, it would be spelled “quattro” instead of “cuatro.”
The 14-year-old winner, Snigdha Nandipati from San Diego, nailed “guetapens” to win, after her competitors misspelled “schwarmerei” and “schwannoma.” In the run-up to the bee, Nandipanti studied 6 to 10 hours a day on weekdays and 10-12 hours on weekends. And of course, she aims to be a neurosurgeon. I guess if I had to have brain surgery, I would like knowing that the surgeon working on me could spell “shwarmerei,” wouldn’t you? One of the contestants said that he reads 53 pages of the dictionary every day.
Watching the Bee takes me back to sixth grade when I won the school spelling bee and the spelling bee for the area. The words were a far cry from “schwarmerei,” but I was still proud, in my acid-washed denim skirt and white oversized sweater with large purple belt. In the area competition, the other girl missed “aboret,” and I had to spell that one, plus “accreditation” for the win. Then it was on to the Jefferson County spelling bee, where I remember being so nervous I almost puked, and where “piecemeal” was my demise. Darn you, “i before e” rule! I think I came in fifth place. I was not national spelling bee material, but I got two cool trophies, and for a non-sports-playing girl, I was glad to have my “thing” that I did.
What I remember most about those Bees was the immense pressure for perfection. In a Spelling Bee, there is no wiggle room. No grace. Either you spell it right, or you are immediately relegated to the loser’s bench. One false letter, and you’re dead in the water. You are not allowed, under any circumstances, to take a letter back once you’ve begun spelling. If you have uttered it, it’s out there, and it’s either right or wrong. That’s why I could not say, “Oops! I’m sorry! I meant to say IE! Not EI! You gotta believe me!” Too late. It’s all over.
Grace isn’t like that.
In the course of a day, lots of “spelling words” cross our paths. Think about it. The kids are fighting. You’re being asked to spell “PATIENCE.”
“P-A-S-H-E-N-S!” you sputter and stammer in frustration and anger, seriously botching the word, and botching the opportunity to peacefully resolve the conflict before you. BONK. Wrong. Sit down. You’re out.
Your spouse forgets to do something you’d asked. Spell “MERCY.”
“M-I-R-S-E-E!” you spell cluelessly, with your irritable response to him. BONK. To the loser’s bench you go!
Your co-worker ticks you off. Spell “L-O-V-E.”
“Can I have the definition please?” you ask. Stalling. You know what the definition is. But you still mess up and choke out an incorrect, “L-U-V,” as you tell everyone around you how mad you are. BONK. Have a seat.
You lie in bed and remember each way you fell short of perfection, short of the huge trophy, short of the scholarship that the amazing spellers get.
But then…morning comes.
And instead of finding yourself still sitting on the loser’s bench, you remember this -
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23
Because of Jesus, the fantastic news is that we get a clean slate. A clean slate every morning! We get new words to spell, and more chances to spell the words we botched yesterday. The wrongly uttered letters are forgiven and forgotten. We are still in the game. One false step does not mean we have to sit down.
It means we get to keep going.
Even if we’re asked to spell “guetapens.”