There are two things you need to know about me. The first is that I have always been a bit of a late adapter. In college I ran with one of those yellow Sony cassette players even though CD players were well in play; though I am moving into five years of an iPhone, I still rely heavily on my magnetic paper calender in the kitchen; I just now began shopping online. You get the idea. The second is that I deal with anxiety and the unknown by hyper-preparation. Before I had my first child, I literally read like 6 books on birth and parenting. I plan my children’s mediocre-at-best birthday parties months in advance mentally. Again, you see where I am going with this.
That being said, school begins here in Cali after Labor Day, which means that school preparation began in my heart nearly two weeks ago. Waking up the first week of August with a frantic sense of urgency that school would begin in a month, I decided it was time for Back to School Supply Shopping. And who doesn’t love new school supplies? Fresh markers, unbent corners on folders, new lunch boxes, and sharpened pencils.
Staples didn’t see us coming, they didn’t even have their back to school pants on yet. But we sure did. And this year was going to be a splurge. This late adapter was finally going to buy a pencil sharpener, or “sharpender” in Eli-speak. Being as there was a battery-operated pencil sharpener on sale, I thought that would be a good next step from the cheap hand-cranked jobbies my kiddos had been attempting to use and then breaking for years. I was too cheap to go for the actual electrical sharpener, but looking back I wish I had.
We got home, all still in decent moods and excited about our purchases, none more than me. But my kids moved on to creating robots out of cups and odds and ends. How dare they? Did they not know that school was in a month and everything had to be labeled and neatly packaged in their book bags? Why were they not on board with this crucial work? Were they ungrateful for the hours of sacrifice I had just spent combing the aisles of Staples?
I was well into hyper-preparation mode, without even realizing the impatient glares I was giving my 18 month old for needing milk. Who can drink milk in a time like this, Phin? The teacher needs 3 dozen sharpened pencils, and they need to be sharpened right now. By now I was sweating, as there was a reason the battery-operated sharpener was on sale. It sucked. I think gophers could have sharpened the pencils faster with their teeth. But I pressed on, getting more and more frustrated with every pencil. It wasn’t until I looked up from my pyscho-pencil-sharpening and barked at Eli for wanting me to drop everything to tape his “Cup-Bot” together that I realized what a state I had gotten myself into.
Then I had to laugh at myself (picture Cruella de Ville meets Mrs. Frizzle and you have a decently accurate picture of me in the moment). I had done it again. In an attempt to deal with my anxiety for my children as they started school, in an attempt to give them all that they needed, I had totally missed the point. Sure, my kids need school supplies, and being prepared is not sinful. But in a loving attempt to get things in order, I had failed to give them what they really needed.
More than they needed their book bags packed a full month in advance, my kids needed their little hearts packed fill with my presence, my love, my attention. My kids greatest need is for a momma who is STILLED and FILLED. Stilled from the demands of what feels so urgent and filled with the peace that comes from choosing that which is most important, God’s life-giving presence. More than color-coordinating folders and notebooks, they need me to prepare the way ahead of them in prayer that their hearts and souls would be assured of his love, bold in the truth, equipped for every good work.
I put the pencil sharpener away. I apologized to Eli for being crazy. I sat on the coach and asked God to remind me what was most important. And as always, He did. He reminded me that their greatest need was for me to be filled with His love, His patience, His purposes. Only then can I adequately love them and equip them for what lies ahead.