At times it feels like my entire childhood revolved around trophies. Having been raised in a very performance-driven home, my brother and I were sent to Chinese school every Sunday afternoon. Each year, our school held a variety of contests such as speech contests and vocabulary contests. As students, the first thing we looked for when we entered the room was the trophy table. Of course the first place trophy was always the most elaborate and the most coveted. One would think this was the Olympics by the way the second and third place contestants cried when we received our trophies. I say “we” because I was often either second or third place and I shed many tears along with my fellow non-winning contestants. To us, those trophies, which have been collecting dust ever since, defined our worth for that day. Getting a second or more often for me, a third place trophy meant that I was a third-rate person.
I remember the day that changed. One year, for my speech contest, I told my mom that I wanted to write my own speech. Instead of memorizing and giving a speech someone else wrote, I asked my mom if she would translate a speech that I wrote in English and have me give the Chinese version in the speech contest. That year, for the school-wide competition, I won first place. Holding that trophy in my hand, it didn’t matter that I had had a rough morning. It didn’t matter that I had to go home to mounds of difficult homework assignments. I had won. I had the trophy in my hand. I was going to the district-wide competition for the first time in my life. In my mind, I was finally valued, (until I placed second in district, but that’s a discussion for another day).
I remember carrying myself with a new sense of dignity those two weeks prior to the district competition. I was chosen to represent my school! I remember the difference in the way I conducted my activities and even the thoughts that ran through my head. Every time I went through something difficult, or had a bad day, I would think to myself, “I’ve still got the trophy. I’m still the winner.”
My Good Friday started out anything but good yesterday. My emotions were sending me into the pits of despair and my nasty cough was starting to get the best of me. I didn’t even want to go to church on Easter. I didn’t care that I was the Sunday school teacher or that I had promised the kids an Easter party. I was done pretending to be happy and I figured that if I went to church, I would have to do what I’ve done most of my life, put on a smile and say “I’m doing well, thank you” to anyone who asks. This time I wasn’t ready to do that. So I slumped back into bed and kicked up the pity party volume a notch.
As my mind wandered, I suddenly saw a picture in my mind of a man (whose back was to me) and he threw a fist in the air and yelled, “Yess!!!” It sounded like he had won something. When he turned around, I saw that it was Jesus with a big smile and a trophy in his hand. As he approached me, he handed the trophy to me and suddenly I understood. Jesus won an awesome victory over death, over condemnation, and over the enemy and his schemes to destroy all of God’s children on Easter Sunday when he walked out of that tomb alive. However, that’s not the best part. The best part is he gave us the trophy. He gave us his prize! He already had the prize of intimacy with God. He didn’t need to fight that battle for himself. He fought it for us! His victory is ours!
Do I still have uncontrollable mood swings? Yes. Do I still have my nasty cough? You should have heard me this morning. Am I still severely hearing impaired with no sense of smell and a very impaired sense of taste? What was that you said? Has my financial situation changed? Nope, but guess what? I still have the trophy! I’m still the winner! Jesus didn’t snatch back the trophy he gave me because I was throwing a fit or because I’m a mess. Instead, he points to it and says, “Remember who you are. You are more than a conqueror because of the victory I won for you.”
Are you going through some trials that have made you feel defeated? Look in your hands. You still have the trophy! You are still the winner! Jesus’ victory is still yours!
All of a sudden Paul’s admonition to “give thanks in all circumstances” doesn’t seem so preposterous. With the trophy in hand, we can turn to the one who did all the work and say with a tear-stained smile, “Thank you Jesus!”