A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Ask my kids, and they’ll tell you I’m a competitor. I play to win. (Not that I always win, you understand; it’s just that I aim to win.) My competitive spirit is so strong, I find it hard, when I’m playing checkers with one of my great-grandchildren, to warn them that they’re about to make a bad move!
For four years in high school, I played the violin in the school orchestra. Every year the director would assign me First Chair, Second String Section. I would beg Miss Dirks, “Please put me in the First Section, even if it’s the last chair.” “No,” she always said, “the second section needs you.” That did not comfort me. I didn’t want to be second anything.
That competitive spirit got me in trouble at Camp Michiwana the summer of my junior year in high school. Michwanna was a camp directed by Mrs. Lance Latham. We called her “Teach.” She established the AWANA clubs that are now used in 61,000 churches all over the world. For two weeks that summer she taught us the book of Galatians, and I learned in a way I’d never understood before, that I could not earn God’s favor by “doing” anything but simply accepting His wonderful grace. The key Scripture was Galatians 4:3-6:
But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman,
subject to the law [religious rules].
God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law,
so that He could adopt us as His very own children.
And because you Gentiles [anyone not a Jew] have become His children, . . .
You can call God your dear Father.
Somehow that glorious truth didn’t affect my competitive spirit. I chose tennis for my sport. Three levels were offered: beginner, intermediate, and skilled. When we were tested I played as best I knew how: I was determined to make the advanced group, and I did. But the competition was fierce. Why didn’t it occur to me that if I entered the intermediate level, I might have a chance to win a meet?
Some of the girls at camp were from the affluent north Chicago suburbs. They were long-limbed, blond, self-assured athletes, good at every sport. But they were also smart and well-versed in the Bible. In my unsophisticated eyes they were the Golden Girls. (This was long before the Golden Girls TV program.)
The last night of camp the awards were announced. I knew I hadn’t earned anything in sports, but I though maybe I’d earned a handcraft or Bible award. As each name was called, a smiling girl sailed up to the front to receive her certificate. It seemed every girl there had gotten a award except me. Mrs. Latham said, “Let’s give all these wonderful girls a hand.” Then I saw “Teach” look straight into my eyes. She paused, then stepped over to talk to another woman on the platform. I saw that woman search until she found my face. They talked briefly, then Mrs. Latham came back to the podium. “I see we skipped one award. Please congratulate Libby Rice for being the “Neatest Camper.” She didn’t offer me a certificate; I think she actually invented the award on the spur of the moment when she saw my stricken face. That night I was given, not just a “neat camper” award, but pure grace. I was given a favor I had not earned and could not earn. It was a poignant example to me of God’s grace, offered to me in Jesus, without cost.
The next morning, the “The Neatest Camper of Camp Michawana 1943” rode the bus back to Chicago, sobbing all the way. She didn’t have to compete with anyone for anything. She was God’s dear child. She hadn’t done a thing to earn His love and could do nothing to keep His love. She could rest in God’s eternal love and grace.
I wish I could always remember that precious truth.