Every so often, I get bitten by the grateful bug.
I don’t know if it comes from watching my Pollyanna VHS tape non-stop as a pre-teen (we didn’t have quality shows like Gossip Girl back then).
My parents may also be to blame with their constantly chirpy announcements on the importance of thanking God for the things in our lives while I was growing up.
Or, it could have been the life-changing excerpt from The Hiding Place where Betsie thanks God for the lice in her concentration camp barracks.
But, I really think it comes from a high school chapel sermon.
As you know, I attended a very conservative, legalistic, Christian school. We had hour-long chapels four days week. Most of the chapels were a complete waste of time. You could have put a monkey with a flaming stick at the podium, and it would have been a better investment in our lives.
A few chapels in particular stand out to me, such as a challenge set forth by a rather rotund “preacher” (this was an honorary title bestowed on men not ordained, trained, or often mentally-balanced, who were featured as guest speakers in our chapels).
The only reason I mention his weight is because he should have had some sensitivity about outward appearance, but he went on to prove he had no such conviction.
He reminded “us gals” that we needed to be “pretty on the inside, too.” I believe his exact illustration was, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”
My friend Amy leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Did he just refer to us as livestock?”
“Yep,” I deadpanned. “I’m not sure he should be bringing up pigs. Invites comparison.”
She stifled a giggle, as our belligerent preacher bellied back up the podium. He thumped his Bible against the microphone. “Now, I’m not saying that women shouldn’t try to be pretty. After all, if the barn needs painting…” His voice trailed off into knowing nodding, as the boys and men in the room laughed.
I took stock of my sister classmates. The more devout supplicants - the ones with breeding, bare feet, and brainwashing in their futures - gave slight smiles, unable to completely suffocate the tiny sliver of their self-esteem gasping for air.
Others of us, would-be feminists (at least in that setting) along with the well-balanced kept straight faces. The same expression was valiantly favored by the female teachers in the room.
For the rest of the semester, the boys reminded us we resembled poorly painted agricultural architecture.
College chapels were also often favored. Young, handsome college men would visit our humble gathering and shill for their school.
I remember two of these colleges, quite clearly. The first one was Bob Jones University. I heard a BJU rep speak at least twice a year from my freshman through senior years. Somehow, I also ended up on the BJU mailing list.
Now, I knew I wasn’t going to BJU. I didn’t know where I was going. I just knew I wasn’t going there. A simple flip through the catalog had confirmed my suspicions that it wouldn’t be a good fit for either institution or individual.
By the time I was a junior, I was getting way more mail from BJU than necessary. I believe entire forests were depleted just so I could be solicited as a student. I was fed up with it, but no matter who I called, I kept getting mail.
So, when the BJU rep came back to the school for his second pass-though, my friend Amy and I brainstormed ways to get off the mailing list.
Finally, Amy hit on a brilliant idea. When the rep passed out the cards asking for our addresses and inquiring about our majors, I copied from Amy’s card:
“Dear BJU – I’m so excited to come to your college! Can you please send me all the information on your pastoral ministry? I just can’t wait to be a female pastor! Sincerely, Ann-Marie”
Neither of us ever got another piece of mail from BJU. Message, apparently, received.
One of the more bumbling college reps was from Ambassador College. For the first fifty minutes of chapel, he talked only to the boys.
He extolled the virtues of the college’s pastoral ministry. “Us gals” were bored and ignored. Near the end of his speech, he seemed to remember there was another gender in the room.
“Now, you girls will be excited to hear we’ve just added a secretarial program, so our young men can have some girls to marry!”
I turned to Amy, incredulous. “That’s it? Secretary or spouse? They think that’s some kind of a draw for the college. Please.”
Amy shrugged. We were both battle weary in our fourth year of high school. “Well, at least we know where we’re going to college. Let’s just hope our underclass groundlings choose wisely for themselves.”
But, as you’ll recall, I mentioned there were a few truffles tucked in the mud.
The one I credit with instilling my gratefulness meter was an older man who preached a message on being thankful for unusual things.
He asked us to name the things we normally thanked God for – food, family, and friend, etc. Then he asked us to start thinking of things we had never offered thanks towards. His example was our senses.
“When was the last time you thanked God you can see a sunset, smell cinnamon rolls, pet an animal, sing, and hear a baby’s laugh?”
It became an inspiration to me.
Even now, every day I try to think of something new. Today, I found myself grateful for words and the ability to communicate through a diverse and bountiful language. Words like palatial, exuberant, physicality, gargantuan, and revolutionary.
In looking back, I know I can even be thankful for those many years of chapels, and the absolute truth of Isaiah 55:11.
“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
And, yes, of course, I used the King James Version. For those of you who might have been concerned I learned nothing in chapel.