Who does not love a stack of brand new school supplies? Or the smell of freshly sharpened pencils?
I love to hold a new notebook in my hands, one with no creases in the cover, and to open it up to the first blank page. It is as full of possibility as the sun coming up over a newly plowed field.
Who knows what might grow here?
This story is not really about my love of school supplies, though I am pretty sure I could write a lengthy ode to ink and paper. But it is actually a story about unexpected provision. It is a tale of letting go and walking towards the unexpected, but my love of school supplies is an important factor.
A Story about School Supplies
Back in my home state of Arkansas (as in many other places), the aisles near the front of stores are filled with school supplies in the weeks leading up to the start of school. Every year when the school supplies would appear, I would be distracted from my grocery shopping and find myself wandering among the notebooks, pens, pencils, glue, paints, markers, boxes, index cards and folders. I was completely taken in by the organized shelves of supplies because in addition to having a great love for these things, I was a total sucker for the fact that in July, they are on sale. Crayons cost a fourth of what would the rest of the year, so I would buy four boxes.
That makes sense, right?
I would fill a shelf in our closet with school supplies that we would use all year long. Then, in January, I would feel proud when teachers would ask for more markers and crayons at school, because I could send them along, having bought extra at the discounted rate in the summer. If the kids needed new composition notebooks for the new term, I had them covered! I usually hoarded so many of the inexpensive school supplies that often, we would still have some by the end of the school year.
Then when everything went on sale again in July, I would restock. I am certain that my heart’s tendency to swell at being on top of our home’s school supply needs reveals something rather shallow about me, but nevertheless, I freely admit that this was something that was super important to me. In fact, the summer we were gone camping and did not return until a week after school had started, I asked my sister-in-law, Whitney, to please buy our school supplies because I was so worried about not getting them on sale and she graciously obliged.
So you will understand, dear reader, that last year when we were purging everything to get ready to move to Scotland, I left the school supply shelf in tact until near the very end. Before we even knew we were moving, I had given away loads of things as part of a project I was doing with my girlfriends from church to decrease the stuff in our lives and breed generosity in our hearts. We had giveaway garage sales where we gave everything away but accepted donations for our friends in Kenya. Somehow, we managed to have three of these garage sales without my ever touching my beloved school supply shelf.
Once we knew for sure that we were moving, a part of me thought I might bring those stacks of notebooks and boxes of crayons and markers along to Scotland with us.
After all, the kids would still be going to school. They would still need paper.
When it came time to pack the bags for Scotland and to move out of our house for good, it became clear that the school supplies were not going to make the cut. I could have guessed this of course, and I was reminded of a young girl who left to study abroad over twenty years ago.
I was eighteen years old, standing in the airport crying because my bag was too heavy and watching while my parents pulled out all the notebooks I had packed. Of course I had no idea what I really needed to take and this was before you could search the internet for 25 Ways To Pack Light For Studying Abroad. I remember my dad saying to me, “Honey, I’m pretty sure you can buy paper in Prague!”
Those words came back to me as I bagged up all the school supplies in my closet to give them away.
I remember saying to my friend, Diane, who was helping me pack, “I have given away so much without even thinking about it, so I cannot figure out why I am stumbling over these ridiculous school supplies. But it is making me sad to give them away.”
I told her that I thought it must be about what they represented. Being prepared. Having a stock to fall back on. Or maybe storing up in a time of plenty (July) to have in a time of need (January).
Diane and I have had so many conversations in the last ten years about letting go, so it was not without tenderness and compassion that she reminded me that this releasing of paper and pen was one just more step in a continual process of letting go.
It’s funny to me how opening closed fists and trusting is a discipline to be practiced in the smaller things of life. It almost seems silly to call it trust that I let go of a few hoarded bags of school supplies, but for me, it was. I even had to pray about it. I had to ask God to help me let go and trust him. I knew there would be school supplies in Scotland, but would I know where to find them and have the money to purchase them when the time came?
Moving to Scotland was so overwhelming and so full of grander moments of letting go and trusting that had it not been for my conversation with Diane and my prayers for pen and paper, I might have missed a serendipitous reminder of how God is watching over even the smallest of details.
He is God of the North Sea and He is God of the notebooks.
Or jotters, as they say here in Scotland.
Do you know where you get your jotters in Scotland?
They are provided.
As are folders, pencils, crayons, markers and all the things you need to be a student here.
When we visited the schools our kids would attend, and I asked what they would need for school besides their uniforms, these are the words the school counselor said to me.
Everything that they need is provided.
If you, like us, were to find yourself homeless in a new land, borrowing an address of someone you have just met in order to register your kids in school, the provision of school supplies might seem like a small thing.
But to me, it was the voice of God.
A timely reminder.
Everything you need will be provided.
A home. Food to eat. Dishes to eat it on and pots to cook it in. Funds for the heating bill and tuition and uniforms. Oh, and yes, even school supplies.
PS. The brand new notebook pictured for this story is a Christmas gift I received from my friend Diane. Fitting, yes?