No Contest


“How can I get on the bus with the rest of the choir? A ‘III’ on my solo—the most horrible, embarrassing thing that ever happened to me in all my 18 years! How can I ever face anybody again?”

As a senior in high school, I had looked forward to my solo at the state high school music festival as just about the most important event of my life. I had faithfully toiled through all the necessary preparation, including voice lessons and long, hard hours of practice. I had gone the extra mile—and then some. I was ready to savor the fruits of my labor. If I needed any additional assurance of success, I had even lent my music to some girls who had forgotten theirs and was thus in line for a reward as a good Samaritan. Most important, I prayed for help just before my turn to perform, and I knew the Lord wouldn’t let me down.

I couldn’t believe it when I was given a “III” instead of a “I” or at least a “II.” I was crushed and humiliated. Fighting back angry tears, I came to the conclusion that the Lord had deserted me. I returned to Pocatello bearing my disappointment and bitterness like crimson banners. I would not be comforted. I didn’t want to be comforted.

The next Sunday was the Primary children’s program in our ward, and I led the children in singing some of the songs. The children sang so beautifully that for a moment I forgot my pain in the warmth of the experience, but afterward the feelings of shame and betrayal returned. The following day I was surprised to receive a letter from my high school choir director’s wife.

“Dear Judy,

“You most certainly turned in a performance today! I looked at the people as the children sang, and they were enthralled. Not one of the girls who got better ratings on their solos could ever dream of making those kids sing the way they sang for you. When you were leading them, you forgot all about yourself and relaxed, and you looked radiant. I could hear you singing along with them, and it was lovely.

“I know it’s hard for you, but please try to believe that your talents far outweigh the more obvious ones that the world makes so much of. I have grown fond of you in the last year, and it really hurts me to see you disillusioned and unhappy. The Lord loves you and has many wonderful things waiting for you. It will be a shame if you are too blinded by your own desires to recognize them when they come. Please have faith in those who love you and believe them when they tell you that the things that seem to matter the most sometimes turn out to matter least.

“I’ll never forget how proud I was of you today or how you thrilled me and all who were there with the beautiful way you handled the children. I have already forgotten what ratings those soloists received, but I will never forget a young lady whose sweet, loving spirit can make children sing like angels.

“Judy, today you rated a ‘I.’ “Love, Mona”

I will be forever grateful for that good sister. Her wise letter taught me some important things that day 11 years ago. It taught me that everything is more beautiful when done for others. It taught me that service is more important than recognition. It taught me the importance of waiting and trusting. It taught me that no contests are held to judge the most important talents of all.

But in the end I learned more from her than I did from her letter. By reaching out, unasked, to a troubled young girl, she taught me that when she signed her letter “Love, Mona,” it wasn’t just a formality, it was a whole approach to life.

I have tried to live up to the rating she gave me that day.

[illustration] Illustrated by Todd Curtis