God’s blessings in our lives can easily be turned into smug, self-satisfied arrogance if we grab the glory for ourselves rather than thanking Him. Climbing the ladder of success led to a well-deserved serving of humble pie for me.


My fifth-grade year was absotively, posolutely the best year of my life. Everything went downhill from there. Those were the days: pre-glasses, pre-braces, and pre-trans-fats. Mrs. Douglas was my teacher, and I was unequivocally her precious pet. She sported a “bubble-cut” hairdo beautifully plastered with Dep Hair Gel and always dressed in neon clothes. I adored her, and the feeling was mutual. Every time Mrs. D. posed a question, my hand shot up like a rocket and I pontificated about any subject we studied, whether I knew the right answer or not. My classmates were mildly annoyed, but they didn’t persecute me as much as I deserved.


The School Spelling Bee was held every October like clockwork. With my new-found confidence as class genius, I determined to add another star to my crown. I would take on Elma Studder, the two-time seventh grade spelling champion, and grind her to a pulp. I poured over the bee study book in the bathtub, during recess and even during Lassie.


The big day arrived. We faced off like two ornery gunslingers. Elma pulled out her Colt 45 and aced “beneficent.” I fired back with “anonymous.” After a heated exchange, I obliterated her with “zygote”. “Zygote. Z-y-g-o-t-e. Zygote.” The seventh grade students were horrified. Elma was their pride and joy. How could a smart-mouthed fifth grader de-throne her? Maybe she didn’t eat her Wheaties that morning…maybe my steely stare unnerved her. I gloated over her defeat. 


I now proudly seized my throne as Queen Bee. The newspaperman took my picture, (fuzzy ponytail, pot belly and all) and I grinned like a Cheshire cat. Even Betsy the crossing guard quaked in her Keds upon my approach. I hesitate to mention I was shot down on the first word of the District Spelling Bee. “Independence. I-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-a-n-c-e. Independance.” What was I thinking? 


Even my district defeat couldn’t snuff out my euphoria. My spelling bee fame won the heart of Phil Taylor, the blue-eyed boy with the buzz cut in math class. Phil fell madly in love with me. He scrawled a note in homeroom asking me to be princess of the Oak Cliff Nuggets, his Little League softball team. My chest swelled (s-w-e-l-l-e-d) with pride. Mom bought me a new polka-dot dress and some grown-up lady undergarments. She twisted my hair into a bun and let me wear a smidgen of her racy red lip balm. Phil and his teammates presented me with a 50-cent silver tiara. I knew I was a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe (no pun intended). I held court on the school playground and smugly lorded my royal position over my “peon” girlfriends.


Parade day arrived. Spring had sprung and softball season had just gotten into swing. Phil and I proudly perched on top of the back seat of a pink Cadillac convertible. The four-car Little League parade crept down Main Street. It didn’t matter that the only onlookers were our doting parents. I proudly practiced my gloved beauty queen wave: elbow-elbow-wrist-wrist. It was uncool for beauty queens to look excited. Princesses always appeared blasé, even bored with their adoring fans. After signing autographs (one for my Grandma and one for my little sister Kathy), Phil and I sauntered over to the softball field. I had no idea what a foul ball or a strike was. I had never even witnessed a softball game, so I simply continued my beauty queen wave and sucked down my Dr. Pepper.


The Nuggets had a rough year. Their heavy-hitter, Barney Lampson, dislocated his shoulder in a backyard brawl. A foul ball in the second game of the season clipped Arnie Smith, the catcher. Onlookers were mostly parents, and they were lathered up in a frenzy yelling advice to the players. The prospects for winning the pennant were bleak. But this was my moment to shine. I would not be the poster-girl for a losing team! I saved up my allowance money and bought three pairs of red crepe paper pom-poms. My girlfriends Lana and Laura joined my cheerleading squad. Even though the Nuggets were downhearted, we lifted their spirits and cheered them on to victory. By April, Nugget players and parent celebrated their hard-won victory by polishing off five pepperoni pizzas at Pizza Hut. Even though I had no athletic prowess, I was certain MY cheer squad lifted the Nuggets out of the doldrums and skyrocketed them to victory.


I was unstoppable. I was insufferable to my sister Kathy, I snubbed my buddies, and I bragged until my buttons burst. My winning streak continued. I should have bought a lottery ticket. Of course, the Tackers were Baptists, and gambling was taboo. I still think I could have made a killing. Once again I triumphed, this time in the culinary department. Every April, the PTA held a chili cook-off. Each student was required to concoct the greasy soup. We simmered spices to create just the right combination of Tabasco and ground meat. Parents were not allowed to help. I started by filling my stew pot with Heinz ketchup. Heinz 57 a high-quality condiment-no cheap generic substitute would do. Then I simmered the meat for an eternity-at least thirty minutes. I watched Julia Childs on TV and she always added beer to everything, so I sneaked next door to my Methodist neighbors and borrowed a can of Budweiser. The sauce still needed some zing, so I chopped six fresh jalapeno peppers and five onions. My soup could peel paint. Believe it or not, Julie’s chili was a hit. The blue ribbon is still on my refrigerator. To this day, it is the only thing I can cook without poisoning my family.


After a satisfying spring, my final triumphant moment came in May, just before the school year ended. Mr. Carpenter, our somewhat effeminate choir teacher, selected Stephanie Burkett, Ronald Palmer and me to sing in the cherub chorus of Boito’s requiem with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Each afternoon we warbled our parts with Mr. Carpenter. Our Italian pronunciation was impeccable. Stephanie, Ronald and I became the rock stars of the music class. We even had our own entourage. Boito was an Italian composer obsessed with the afterlife. Dressed as heavenly cherubs, we three perched in the Music Hall balcony with 97 other little angels and chirped out our three-stanza Italian phrases. I can still remember the words. I can’t remember my social security number, but I can sing “Fra telli per namci lontano fin ultimo cielo non tano, poi sempre dove angelo cantar.” Maestro Johanos artfully pointed his baton toward us and we warbled like nightingales.


The cherub chorus balcony was in the nosebleed section of the concert hall. We could barely see the violinists. Our angel army was crammed together like sardines, and the overhead spotlights beat down upon our sweaty foreheads. Soon the ammonia from our perspiration made Tommy Ligdorf a little queasy. Tommy, third row, sixth seat from the left, had contracted the stomach flu shortly before our debut. He spewed his dinner all over the altos before we sang the first “Fratelli…” Once Stephanie saw Tommy toss his cookies, she hurled her undigested French fries into the tuba below. A few fragments landed on the tenors in hell (the orchestra pit). Bedlam ensued. In spite of a somewhat rocky start, the concert went off without a hitch. Maestro Johanos was from Moscow, and Russians are not easily ruffled. We receive a standing ovation, and I had my cherub robe bronzed for posterity. (Just kidding).


My fame was proclaimed from the rooftops-by moi, of course!  But celebrity is short-lived. Elma Studder reclaimed the spelling bee trophy the next fall with a dazzling antidisestablishmentarianism. I pooped out on laboratory. Phil Taylor, my enamored suitor, jilted me for a redhead named Lacey in math class. My luck with men didn’t improve until my freshman year in college. The Dallas Symphony has yet to call me back for “cherub duty.” Rats.


I finally saw all of the hoopla for what it was-fleeting and fading. I needed a dose of humble pie, and God graciously served it to me. But my come-uppance turned out to be a blessing. He showed me who I truly am-His forgiven daughter, a wife and mother and a grateful servant of my Lord. 


Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor. Proverbs 29:23 NIV

“Pride lands you flat on your face; humility prepares you for honors.” The Message

List some synonyms for pride. What does a proud person look like? Why would pride sabotage relationships?


Has your pride ever hurt those closest to you? When? Did you find healing when you humbled yourself before God and those whom you had injured?


Spend some time thinking of ways you can build others up. The next time you are with a friend, try listening patiently rather than talking and “tooting your own horn.” Making others feel valued and respected can be deeply rewarding. Ask God to help you do this today.


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