My heart was pounding in my ears.
I tried to steady my breathing as I let my hands drop to my side. One of the stage directors looked at me and smiled and told me that I could go out onto the stage now.
The steps I took walking out onto that stage were some I will never forget. There were lights shining on me and hundreds of people out in the audience, waiting to hear my every word.
And as I took those few steps out onto the stage, there was a battle that waged in my heart. A battle between my fear and my faith.
Looking up, I recited my name and Bible version.
“I’m Isabella Morganthal and I use the New King James version,” I said a whole lot more confidently than I felt at that moment.
“Please, recite Ephesians 6:10-18.”
I took a deep breath and in the few moments before I began quoting, I gave it to God. In my heart I knew that only one word could eliminate me from the whole competition. One little mistake could end this experience for me.
But I trusted God with it and I quoted with all of my heart.
I quoted these words that I had hidden in my heart and that I had recited over and over for weeks. These words that were so precious to me, nothing about this competition could even come close to how much they meant to me. These words that were my true reward of the Bible Bee.
I have participated in the Bible Bee for 5 years now. Every year I have learned something new, I have hidden hundreds more verses in my heart, and I have grown deeper in my relationship with the King of kings. Every year, I have become more grateful for this journey God has led me on.
And what a journey it has been.
Thinking back over these five years, I see so many ways God has been faithful to me. I remember 2011 and how God graciously allowed me to become a Junior National Qualifier, my very first year in the Bee. I remember 2012 and how God taught me a lesson about how He works everything out for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory. I remember 2013 and how Jesus became the only desire of my heart that year, and then He faithfully allowed me to qualify for Nationals. I remember 2014 and how Jesus became worth it all to me, even though I won no earthly prize in the Bible Bee.
And I look at 2015 and all the amazing things God did. It would be impossible to record them all here or share everything on these pages. I think back to the beginning of this Bible Bee year—my final Bible Bee journey—and how I gave every single one of my dreams to God…
My dream of having my Local Bible Bee score place me in the top 10 nationally.
My dream of winning 1st place at my Local Bible Bee.
My dream of being a semi-finalist—in the top 15—at the National competition.
In my heart I didn’t know if these dreams would come true or not. I didn’t know what God was gonna do. But I trusted Him.
Last year, for my 2014 Bible Bee journey, I wrote an article titled Worth it All. In this article I explained that the hours I spent every day immersed in the presence of God, were my true reward for the Bible Bee. Everything I sacrificed to spend time with God—all the hours I spent, all the verses I memorized, all the days I spent oftentimes tired and weak—all of it was worth it, even if I didn’t advance in the Bible Bee competition. It was worth it, because Jesus is worth it all and He is the reward of the Bible Bee! That year, 2014, I did not advance to the Bible Bee Senior semi-finals, but I truly had never felt more joy in my heart, knowing that Jesus was so worth it.
Then came 2015.
My final journey with the Bible Bee before I aged out (Yes, I am the dreaded age of 18). This was my final chance to see my three Bible Bee dreams come true. And I wanted those dreams to come true with all of my heart.
And God did it.
At Locals I won 1st place. My Local score placed me 10th in the nation, qualifying me for Nationals.
I was so grateful and so excited. I was honored and humbled.
But I knew that my true test was still to come.
I tested at Nationals and I gave it my best. My oral test was difficult and my written test was interesting. ;) God showed up in amazing ways during each of those tests and He was more than faithful. At the Opening Ceremony on November 18, 2015, I walked down the center aisle to receive my final National Qualifier medal. I cherished every second in my heart as I walked down that aisle and as Mr. Upton placed my medal around my neck. Standing on the stage with the other 120, amazing national qualifiers, my heart was overflowing with gratefulness.
The time went by too quickly for me, but I have cherished every moment in my heart. Finally it came time for them to announce the top 15, Senior Semi-finalists.
My heart was pounding and suddenly I just felt overwhelmed by what God had done. As names were called (some of whom were my very dear friends), I began to cry. I did not deserve to be in that place, but God had chosen me for that moment and I desired all glory to be given to Him.
They were announcing the semi-finalists in alphabetical order according to their last name. When they got to the “M” last names, I truly believed in my heart that God was going to ask me to glorify Him without ever making semi-finals. Tears filled my eyes and I looked up with a smile. I was fully prepared to glorify Him without making it, since I thought I had not.
“Jesus, You are worth it all to me,” I whispered through my tears.
And then it happened.
It was as if God smiled down at me and whispered to my heart, “I know and I’m so proud of you.”
It took me a moment to realize that they had actually really just announced my name as a 2015 Senior Semi-finalist.
I gasped and screamed and almost fell over. What?! Is this really happening? Oh, Jesus, thank You. You did it! To You be the glory! Thank You, thank You so much, God!
A million thoughts ran through my mind as I walked to the front of the stage, greeted by a hug from one of my dear friends who had also qualified for semi-finals. I stood there, completely in awe that I was actually standing there with these amazing young people whose deepest desire was to glorify God.
Looking back on that moment, I am honored that God chose me to be a semi-finalist. I am honored that He entrusted to me the task of bringing glory to His Name and encouragement to His people through the recitation of His Word onstage.
And that moment brings me back to the moment when I stood onstage in front of hundreds of people, reciting Ephesians 6:10-18.
There was a part of me that wondered if this would be my final recitation and there was another part of me that desperately hoped it wouldn’t be.
During semi-finals, I made it through my first recitation of 1 Peter 5:6-7 without error, by the grace of God. The second round had more difficult passages.
When I was given Ephesians 6:10-18, I hesitated inwardly just a bit. I knew this passage had been one of the more difficult ones for me. To be honest, while I quoted that verse, I was terrified. My heart was pounding in my ears. And yet I still had this peace in my heart that wouldn’t go away.
I quoted the words with everything I had. When I finished, I looked up and was relieved to think that I had quoted without error.
I walked backstage and walked over to a friend, who was a semi-finalist and used my Bible version. I began to ask her if I had quoted without error, but I knew instantly by the look on her face that I had not.
I cannot express to you the way my heart dropped at that moment.
I had no words, so I sat down and began to cry. Why? I wondered. I had given it everything I had. Why did I not quote without error? I just want to keep quoting Your Word, God, and bringing glory to You. I love this! Why couldn’t I have gotten it correct so I could keep quoting?
A dear friend sat down, looked at me, and asked what happened.
“I think I’m done. We think I made a mistake,” I whispered through my tears.
She didn’t say anything for a moment, but then she began to talk to me and comfort me. Out of everything she said, one question stuck to my heart the most.
“Is Jesus still worth it?” she asked with a smile.
I began to cry harder. Jesus, I’m sorry. You are worth it. Oh, Jesus, You are worth it all. And if this is where my journey ends, God I will glorify You. Only give me strength, please.
I looked up at her and laughed through my tears. “Yes, He is worth it.”
The 15 semi-finalists were all called to the stage moments later. I really didn’t want to walk back out there, because I knew what was going to happen. Jesus, be glorified, I prayed.
“I need the following two people to please step forward.”
When my name was called as one of the two contestants to step forward, I struggled to hide my tears. The words “Unfortunately, you have been eliminated from the competition,” caused me to start crying again. The other contestants began to hug me and comfort me. It was a bittersweet moment.
And looking back on that moment, I am so grateful.
I was honored to be a semi-finalist and recite two Scripture passages onstage.
Although I had not advanced further in the competition, I couldn’t have been more happy.
I aged out of the Bible Bee with a reward much greater than any earthly prize. And in the process, God graciously allowed my dreams to come true. I am now Bible Bee alumni, which is a bittersweet feeling.
But living out the fact that Jesus is worth it all, extends far beyond just Bible Bee. Jesus is worth it all in every area of our lives and we can live that way every day. Whatever sacrifices you have to make to honor and glorify Jesus with your life will be worth it, because Jesus is worth it all. Everything is dull and not worthy in light of the glorious knowledge of knowing Jesus more. Never stop seeking Him and following Him.
The five years I did Bible Bee were some of the best years of my life and some of my favorite experiences came from this journey. And it was all worth it. Every hour. Every day. Every week. Every month. Every year. All the time and all the sacrifices was so worth it.
Because Jesus is truly worth it all.
To God be all the glory!