Dear Speech and Debaters by: Kaitlyn Butts

To the student whose season just ended,
I’m so sorry. When I saw the email announcements a few days ago, my heart broke for my younger siblings, the students I have coached, and the hundreds of families who build their spring semester around tournaments. As you grieve this difficult but necessary announcement and perhaps work through anxiety about many other uncertainties, I would like to encourage you with a few truths…

God is in control.
​The pandemic we find ourselves living through is not a surprise to God. I have returned to this truth again and again in the last few weeks. The rapid spread of coronavirus and the way it changed daily life was a surprise to me. I don’t enjoy feeling out of control when things bigger than me surprise and disrupt my expectations for life. Every day, I have had to remind myself that my plans have always been uncertain. “Control” has always been an illusion. While this pandemic certainly highlights human fragility in horribly inescapable ways, it does not reveal anything new about humans or about God. God remains the transcendent creator. He is still the sovereign King of creation. He is still the gracious Father. He is still the all-holy judge. He is still the initiator of covenant relationship with His people. Remind yourself of this as often as you can, and spend time letting Scripture affirm these truths for you. God always sees and knows what our days will hold, and He is in control of the universe.

You are not alone in your disappointment.
You are not alone in your feelings, whether they be anger, sadness, or confusion. Everyone in your life is struggling with loss of some sort right now. Kids are struggling to adapt to life without church activities and social extracurriculars. Athletes are working through incredible disappointment. Seniors in college have just said rushed goodbyes to their closest friends. Students abroad for a semester had their adventures cut short. Musicians and artists have lost hundreds of hours of preparation for performances and events. Engaged couples are watching their wedding plans dissolve and long-awaited trips are being canceled. Many people have lost their jobs and many others are losing loved ones to this virus. Though you have been passionately invested in speech and debate, make every effort to channel your own disappointment and frustration into care and understanding towards everyone you interact with in your family and online.
Secondly, you are not alone because God sees you in your pain. The Father who knows each sparrow and clothes the lilies of the field, the Lord who has numbered the hairs on your head and knows each word you will share in an impromptu speech long before you do sees you. He is near to you in your broken-heartedness and He wants you to bring your burdens to Him. The comfort of His word and His promises are available to you. When the frustration of having your plans changed rises, remind yourself that not only is God in control, but He is also with you. When you miss your friends, commune with Christ. Your disappointment may cause you to feel isolated, but you are not alone.

Your opportunity for impact is not over.
Now is the moment for you to prove that your involvement in speech and debate isn’t just about tournaments and trophies. Now is your chance to focus on the long-term impact of your speeches, your skills, and your relationships. You have been given a strange gift: the chance to demonstrate that you prepare for something bigger than tournaments. The window of opportunity for influence hasn’t closed with the cancellation of the formal competition season. You may have already dreamed up some of the following suggestions, but please take them to heart (and be on the lookout for opportunities hosted by Lasting Impact!).
Virtual tournaments are entirely possible. If my entire college can shift all their courses online in a week, I know that experimentation and networking can make online tournaments possible. Organizing debate rounds with a friend from another region and inviting alumni to give feedback on your speech online are just a few options. Additionally, I would highly recommend recording your speech and sharing it widely. Many people have extra time on their hands to enjoy the arts from their home, and that includes the messages you’ve been sharing at tournaments! You never know who your speech may encourage, amuse, or motivate in this time.
If you have more seasons ahead of you, this is the perfect time to dig deep into debate theory or apologetics preparation. Perhaps you’ve been complaining about never having enough time to read for fun… now you have the chance to be a good steward of the extra hours you would have spent at tournaments to broaden your knowledge base by reading widely. If you’re a senior, this last suggestion doesn’t apply to you, and I know that hurts in a unique way. It may be time for you to gently close the chapter of speech and debate tournaments, but you may have years of collegiate competition to anticipate! You can consider using the rest of this semester to assist students in your family or club who do have more competition seasons ahead of them. Lasting Impact! just shared a unique opportunity for seniors to contribute a devotion to one of our resources, so check that out as well. Whatever your path holds, look boldly to the next stage of life and trust that the time you have spent glorifying God in the development of your communication skills will not return void.