I was driving to Wal-Mart the other day when I got a call from a mom. Her children go to our youth group and they have a love/hate relationship with the church. School was starting the very next day and they did not have enough money to buy school supplies. Apparently they had tried to solve this problem all weekend long and had not only failed to attain the necessary supplies but instead had attained great frustration. It was during the expression of that frustration that one of our other youth group kids was hanging out at their house. He said, “You know Pastor Kevin would probably help out.”
The lights came on and they went about the search for my phone number, a long and humorous hunt that did eventually get them my digits. They dialed them just in time for me to do something about it. I said, “I am heading to Wal-Mart now. Take a picture of the list and send it to me.” I thought, “Ten minutes and twenty bucks. This will be easy.” Those were my famous last words.
I got the picture of the list moments later. I perused through the usual “supplies.” They needed pencils and pens and binders and paper. But they also apparently needed headphones and USB drives, to my surprise.
I ventured into Wal-Mart, armed with the grainy, dark picture of their list. I left my wife in the car with two sleeping children. I told her, “Be back in five to ten minutes.” She gave up on me after a half hour and just came inside.
Apparently Wal-Mart does not just have one school supply section. It has four and they are in the four corners of the store. More than that, I was shopping in the last minutes of the “back to school” season, which means hundreds of parents and children had all ready gone through all four of those sections and trashed them in their shopping. They were a chaotic mess of left over, rejected supplies. The pencils were scattered about the backpack section. The backpacks were all unzipped and half of them were on a shelf, the other half on the floor. The pencil boxes were all but non existent and the ones I found were zipped into bags and binders and backpacks. The binders were scattered all over one shelf.
Luckily I was not the only forlorn soul trying to make sense of these four sections. There were other last minute parents there and we became a community of pilgrims. We bounced together through these four sections, occasionally electing a scout to venture elsewhere and bring back a report of what hairy messes and bejeweled supplies awaited. We sang laments to the good ole days and bravely faced this strange new world where kids now need USB drives instead of journals (except they still needed journals too for some reason).
At one point a mother said, “They always want three glue sticks and my son always bring 2 and a half of them back in May.” I looked at my list and replied, “This kid needs 9! What classes is he taking, Advanced Glue Metrics?!?!” The entire aisle burst into laughter and then stopped, expecting a follow up joke. I unfortunately had none and they all shook their heads and retreated back into frustration and sorrow.
Eventually my wife found me. The kids had woken up and started screaming in the car and she had brought them inside. But she barely recognized me. My pilgrimage had changed me in profound ways. Over the last half hour I had lived a lifetime. I had laughed. I had cried. I had grown and I had loved. All of this was etched on my weary face, which was now sporting a five o’clock shadow, proudly displaying the new wisdom gained from shopping this chaotic world.
We delivered the school supplies to the desperate family later that evening. The mom expressed sheer gratitude, at one point saying, “God was looking out for my babies today.”
But her 10 year old son out-shined her. I went to give him a high five and instead he hugged me and said, “Thank you so much.”
I learned the next day that kids who show up without the needed supplies feel incredibly inadequate, unprepared and out of place. The teachers in our school district are incredible and they handle these situations with a wonderful amount of compassion and tact. However, the other kids are not that way. A kid without school supplies has drawn a target on his back that welcomes bullying. Simply put, the first day of school is a nightmare for kids who are unprepared.
The pilgrimage of shopping was far too short for the payoff of a kid who now can get the year off on the right foot.