I remember as a student attending the mandatory chapel services at Houghton College. Since I was taking mostly Bible and related courses and was already active in church leadership in my home church, I considered chapel interesting. But I was quite aware that was not always the attitude of many of my peers. In fact, I sometimes felt a little sorry for chapel speakers who were asked to address an audience many of whom felt compelled to be there. A few of their listeners would even be shamelessly involved in other pursuits like reading, doing homework or chatting with friends.
I don’t remember it ever entering my mind that I might someday be one of those speakers. But that is what I had the privilege to be on April 13, 2011. Funny it is how perspectives completely change. I had been asked by Chaplain John Brittain many months in advance. I considered it a high honor, but I was tense in the days leading up to my speaking. Would I be able to relate to a student audience? Could I adapt from speaking to a smaller congregation at our church to the much larger congregation at the college? How would I deal with the stricter time frame? Would people be tweeting instead of listening?
I made reservations to stay at the Houghton Inn, a delightfully restful place, the night before so that I would not be rushed that morning. When the day arrived, I was calmer than I had been. I just knew that many were praying for me and that God would make me equal to the task. I determined that I would not chicken out and use notes as security, but would speak as I usually do without them. I’ve learned that more is gained by the added presence and eye contact than is lost in content I don’t remember.
My topic was The Wind that Refreshes. While it was related to the current sermon series at church, I felt led to this topic last fall. On this day the attendance is low as tests and papers are due and some students have completed chapel requirements. I am graciously introduced by President Mullen. The Scripture text is from Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones so I have brought a large rawhide dog bone as an object to get me started. The PowerPoint behind me has bones on the slide too but I am paying no attention to it. I feel like I am not connecting until I talk about needing the college choir to do a version of “ankle bone connected to the leg bone …” I bend over, motion with my hands and I half sing it in syncopated rhythm. Then people connect with me and I know my audience is with me.
I walk back and forth on the platform as I speak. I’ve seldom stood still while speaking since the first time I heard John Maxwell speak. I conclude with the story of a friend who has given me permission to share part of his testimony and I challenge the students to let God’s Wind that refreshes blow through their lives, bringing new life, helping them “catch their spiritual breath”, and giving hope. I am right on time too as JoAnne comes up to the grand piano on the platform to play the background music for the closing prayer time and benediction. Afterward, God confirms that He had a definite purpose for this message as several students come up to speak with me about how these words were a blessing.