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A Thanksgiving Reflection

November 19, 2013

Proverbs 17:22 teaches us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” So, too, is a thankful heart a remedy for many of our aliments. The best antidote for the poison of envy is gratitude. A grateful heart makes jealousy very difficult. Dr. Hans Selye, who conducted the definitive research on stress and wrote Stress without Distress, claimed that the single best medicine for stress is an attitude of thanksgiving. Like the elixir of cheerfulness, gratitude is a medicine with no harmful side effects. It is simply good for the human spirit.

When I was in the eighth grade, my English teacher was a real battleaxe. She was as tough as nails. Mrs. Estelle Lampley was a no-nonsense stickler for detail. She really stressed subject-verb agreement. Even those of us who grew up on a lumberyard or in a cotton mill, Mrs. Lampley believed, needed to know how to use the English language correctly. She would not abide poor punctuation, sentence fragments, or dangling participles. She had us diagram so many sentences at the blackboard I thought my hand was going to drop off. I left the eighth grade thinking, Finally! I’m out of her class. I’ll never have another teacher like her!

Three years later when I entered my eleventh grade English class, guess who was there. Mrs. Lampley! My lumberyard English was still unacceptable to her. This second time around she continued her emphasis on diagramming sentences, but now she also required us to read and analyze great works of literature. Mrs. Lampley introduced me to short story writers like Joseph Conrad, Flannery O’Conner, and Jack London. I read the novels of Mark Twain, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Eudora Welty. It was because of Mrs. Lampley that I first read the plays of William Shakespeare. She even encouraged me to try my hand at writing stories and poems. She was still the same demanding teacher that she had always been, and I was still a teenager struggling to learn. Mrs. Lampley persisted.

When I reflect on my past, my life unfolded in remarkable ways. Some who knew me along the way must have thought I was never going to amount to anything. I went through a long educational process and returned to Spartanburg, having done a stint at Harvard Divinity School. One Wednesday night, I preached a sermon entitled “The Punctuation of Our Faith.” In that message, I revealed my gratitude to Mrs. Lampley in the same fond way that I mentioned her here. Bill Cantrell got a copy of the tape and sent it to Mrs. Lampley, who was in a Pennsylvania nursing home. You cannot imagine my surprise when I received a thank you note from her. She told me that it made her day when she heard my remarks. My speaking about what a hard teacher she was and how much her teaching had impacted my life was an affirmation to her that her efforts had paid off. It is still true. Her instruction on grammar and composition, her persistence on sentence diagramming and her relentless desire for excellence have helped me with the discipline of writing. I am so grateful her marvelous job of teaching me.

As we enter the season of thanksgiving, do people in your life need to hear a word of appreciation? If so, inform them. The words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi express that sentiment. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Above all, let us be grateful to God from whom all blessings flow.

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