September 1, 2013

Sermon in the School Supplies

WARNING:  Long Post Ahead

I wonder how many teaching moments I have missed on ordinary days because of walking with my eyes closed.  Because the second I open them, bam, I get schooled. I can't even imagine how different my life would be if I put as much effort into "attentiveness" as I do "producing."  Here is one tiny example in the middle of the secular practice of school supply shopping.  I just happened to have my eyes open because of a book I am in the middle of that is moving me to new places in prayer.

I did not start this day in prayer unfortunately.  I had prepared myself for the stress of school shopping with nothing other than a time limit -- one of the most non-helpful things you can bring to an event like this.  Everything got to me -- the disorganized lists (INEFFICIENCY), the items I knew they would never use (WASTE), the complaints about inadequate binders (ENTITLEMENT), the cries for more (GREED), the fighting between them as we shopped (INGRATITUDE).  I even bought my children slushies to set a playful tone (DESPERATION) but found myself complaining about the slurping five minutes in.  Clearly the problem was me.  I should have prayed first.  I needed God to face this task with joy.

But God showed up anyway as we were leaving.  He came in the form of a man, wearing a bow tie in a cream-colored suit, standing in the middle of the school supplies.  Next to his very empty cart, he was studying a spiral notebook with great intensity and much confusion.  Finally, he surrendered and said, "Excuse me, miss, could you tell me if this is a composition notebook?"  It was not.  "And while I have you, do these (colorful) dry erase markers write only in black?"  No they do not.  "Well now, this is quite difficult," he opined to himself.  He was going to be here all day.  With raised eyebrows, the kids and I looked at each other and made the only decision we could. We turned our carts around and took him by the hand (almost) to the real school supply section at the back of the store.  All the while our spirits were lifting.  That's what serving does, doesn't it?

Together we smiled and helped and related to this stranger in the bow tie.  With his list in our hands, we efficiently made our way through the aisles, filling his cart. We quickly learned that he was buying supplies for disadvantaged kids attending a very special school not too far from us.  I don't know if he'd ever had kids of his own, but this man was clearly a stranger to school supplies.  He was stepping way out of his comfort zone in this act of service and it touched all of us. We felt like little shopping angels sent to help him in his time of need.  All the while he was helping us.  Stand back. Reframe.  See the bigger picture.  Gratitude. I may have even started slurping at that point. But then the real lesson began...

When we took him to the rack of composition notebooks, I quickly handed him ten black ones. My daughter quietly asked him, "Sir, do you think they might want to write in colorful ones?"  "Why, yes!" he responded and let her replace them with her choice.  When I showed him the dividers, I handed him ten sets of economy ones. When I used the word "sufficient," he asked for the more expensive, colorful ones with write-on tabs. (Sydney was rubbing off on him.)  We slowly made our way through his list as he selected the best and most colorful of the choices, regardless of cost, with the faces of the children and the heart of his God in his sight.  And we all got schooled.

My extravagant, extraordinary, generous and loving God lavishes me daily with gifts too numerous to count. He does not stop at "sufficient" when he blesses me.  My cup runneth over and he continues to give.  This precious man with his loving generosity was returning his own blessings to the children he was serving -- extravagantly. My daughter couldn't give without seeing the faces of the children as they excitedly opened their backpacks.  Together they gave more than was expected, more than necessary, more. Let me always remember this day in my own giving. As heir to a generous and extravagant God, my own gifts should be no less extravagant if I want to glorify God in my giving.  The precious lives and the God I serve are worthy of my best service.  Every time.