Back to School Time!

Been to Wal-Mart lately? Or any other “one stop shop” retailer?

If you have, you may have noticed that pencils, loose leaf paper, notebooks of every color and stripe, composition books, pens, markers, crayons, and more adorn the aisles. It’s back to school time! And in a few short weeks our children will back in the swing of things for another academic year. 

When I see school supplies being stocked, I’m always reminded of the bittersweetness of summer’s end as I remember it from my boyhood. I thought about this just the other day as I watched one of our kids kicking a soccer ball around in the parking lot.

I said to him: “You ready for school to start?”

He looked at me as if a third eye just sprouted from my forehead, and with a scowl on his face, he shook his head in time to a rapid: “No . . .no, no, no!”

I get it. I always looked upon back to school time with dread when I was his age. But of course, I hated school!

When I was a boy, summer was the milk of paradise! I spent my summers mostly following my older brother and his friends around. But I didn’t care. As long as school was out, that was just fine with me. We were barefoot and shirtless for most of the summer, our skin darkened by the sun, the soles of our feet toughened and stained by the red dirt road we lived on. My mom and dad both worked, and it was my brother’s job, inept though he was at it, to “keep an eye on me,” which normally consisted of me being dragged along to whatever caper lie in wait. That usually meant swimming in some pond we had no business being in, stealing watermelons (the best tasting watermelon is a stolen one!) swinging from grape vines, or chunking dirt clods at each other just for something to do.

Yes, you may have guessed it: we were raised out in the country with too much time on our hands. 

My dad would sometimes leave a list of “chores” for us to complete. We would at least attempt to complete the list. Occasionally he would have to make “believers” out of us when things didn’t get done. But mostly life was good.

Mom would leave us with a few bucks to last us for the week in case we wanted to walk down to Fuzz Crump’s store to get an ice-cold Pepsi and a snack. Back in the mid to late 70’s Fuzz had one of those big metal chest coolers where you dropped a quarter in the coin slot and pulled out the drink of your choice. The Pepsi’s were usually so cold that they had ice chips floating around in them. I would buy a pack of “goobers” (that’s Blue Springs lingo for peanuts) and pour them in the bottle. With junk food in hand, we would hurry back home to watch Dark Shadows at eleven, and then Days of Our Lives at twelve. 

Those are the fond memories of my summers as a boy. By early August, talk of school starting back would echo across the supper table in the evenings. Before long, my parents would take my brother and me to buy school clothes—a couple pairs of pants, some new shirts, and maybe a new pair of sneakers if last year’s pair were beyond redemption. These were the years that predated Wal-Mart in New Albany, so we would get school supplies from either Fred’s or Gibson’s. In those days school supplies consisted of loose-leaf paper, a three-ring binder, and a pack of pencils.

These days, buying school supplies is a little more sophisticated. Now to be clear, I am not disparaging the extensive list of school supplies that schools now publish. (I often hear parents complain about it, and the idea of what they purchase possibly being shared with other kids.) No, I’m celebrating it.

I went to school with some of the poorest kids in the county. My parents weren’t rich by any means. We made do with what we had. But a lot of kids I grew up with didn’t get a few new outfits for school, much less paper or pencils. Sometimes our teachers would ask us to share with those kids in our classrooms who had nothing to write with or to write on. Many times, our teachers purchased supplies out of their own pockets for some of the kids … a practice that still happens today.

I think it’s a wise practice to publish a list of supplies that our children will need in the coming year. And that’s why I’m grateful to be part of a church that is sparing no expense in meeting that need. This week alone, NAUMC and La Misión served thirty-eight children of different ages to meet their school supply needs. This helps ease what can often be an exorbitant burden for working families who may not have the extra income to buy supplies. But God is good in so many ways! Here are a few examples:

  • God is good because we have Amazon! Many of us have given the fine employees of Amazon a workout in terms of ordering the supplies specified by the schools in our area. 
  • God is good because God has given us UPS and FedEx, those gallant knights draped in brown or red and blue who have faithfully delivered packages of school supplies to us. 
  • God is good because of the invention of the automobile, which enables people like me and Mrs. Kay to head over to God’s fine blessing of Wal-Mart Supercenter, and fill up a shopping cart of crayons, markers, and Elmer’s Glue. 
  •  God is good because there is a flurry of activity in our church. Even as I wrote this, supplies were being organized for the onslaught of children and their families who came to pick and choose the supplies they need. 
  • God is good because the sound of boxes opening and cardboard tearing could be heard up and down our halls as packages were opened.
  • God is good because there was a flurry of Spanish instructions and suggestions echoing throughout the church … exchanges like Irían mejor los lápices por aquí? (“Would the pencils go better over here?”) or “Pongamos los cuadernos en la otra habitación!” (“Let’s put the notebooks in the other room!”).
  • God is good because God has blessed us with pizza. As working families came in with their children, they didn’t have to worry about hurrying home to fix a meal. It was all prepared for them!

These are all clear signs of God’s blessings on this gathered community. Even an old hombre like me can help. 

John 13 gives us the remarkable example of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples: 

“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” (ESV, 12–20).

You might ask yourself, How did we get from school supplies to foot washing? I’m glad you asked! As servants, we are no greater than those we serve. Providing school supplies and dinner for our children and families is no different than foot washing or any other act of service. How? Because foot washing involves more than just feet and washing those feet. I was once part of a foot washing service. Someone must fill the pan with water. Someone must provide a towel for the drying of feet. Someone must wash the feet, and someone must swallow their anxious pride to allow their feet to be washed. 

Service is where heart and humility exist in a single continuum where the need to serve and the need to be served are forever linked. This is the best kept secret of faith. The power structures of the world have no place in this continuum. The enemy cannot penetrate this continuum. Pride is not a concept in this continuum. Only need is important . . . the need to give, and the need to receive. As we learn to practice and embrace the dual roles of each singular need that God’ reveals to us, then we are becoming just like Jesus. 

This is who people see when they look at NAUMC and La Misión: Jesus!  Let us continue to grow in this faith identity as we serve each other, our community, and the world at large.