Most kids kvetched when the summer was over, but I loved going back to school. I looked forward to the prospect of learning new things, of taking on novel challenges, and—of course—the school supplies. I couldn’t wait to get a new backpack and lunchbox—as well as the pencils, folders, crayons, glue, and other bric-a-brac that makes education possible. I would stack up all my goodies on the kitchen table, and my Aunt Anita (who had impeccable handwriting and loved school supplies as much as I did) would write my name in beautiful cursive script on each item.
Sadly, I can’t say the same for my two sons, who were in foster care until April of 2017. The first two years we had them in our home, we received donated school supplies from some well-meaning folks in the community. They arrived on our door in a black plastic garbage bag, which is how most items—including kids’ clothing and personal possessions—are transported in the foster care system. (Don’t tell me that doesn’t send a message to a young, vulnerable heart.)
As adoptive parents-to-be, we assumed we weren’t eligible for such things and had already gone on the gleeful shopping spree I so enjoyed as a child. Still, I’ve never been one to look a free box of markers in the mouth, so we unpacked everything we’d been given. Looking it over, I noticed something. Sure, most of the necessary stuff was there, but there was a sale sticker on both backpacks, which were much flimsier than the ones I had purchased. All the supplies were off-brand, and several things—rulers and calculators—broke after just a few uses. I noticed it, and sadly, the kids did too.
I’m certain the men and women who purchased these goodies did so with the purest and most noble of intentions, but there’s more to a gift than the item itself. The thought and motivation behind it matter just as much, if not more so. When you choose to share with someone in need, don’t think of them only as someone experiencing want or—worse still—as someone who should be grateful with whatever you choose to bestow. Picture him or her as a whole person—someone who, like you, is made in the image of God, who has goals and dreams, but who has to fight a little harder to get there. You’re helping them move one step closer to that goal—and I’m not arguing against thrift by any means—but what message are you sending with the gift of less-than materials?
For school-supply aficionados like myself, it’s Ticonderoga or nothing when it comes to pencils. I have never written with anything but those well-crafted slivers of wood, graphite, and rubber. Those puppies sharpen easily, write smoothly, and the erasers just plain work better. And the first time my sons used them, they both oohed and aahed over the difference. They packed them alongside their heavy-duty binders, Crayolas, Sharpies, and Expo markers (all labeled of course) in sturdy new backpacks with their names stitched inside, and they entered their elementary school with heads held high. For the first time, they weren’t different or odd, nothing screamed “foster kid” to those around them. They belonged. They were valued. And they knew it.
Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.” I think the same can be said of our acts of largesse as well. We honor God when we provide the best we have to those who cannot repay the favor. Giving our best brings Him glory and affirms the God-given dignity of the recipient, and that’s far more important than simply checking charity off the to-do list.