It seems another l-ooooo-n-g summer has come and gone. It’s not just the commencement of the school year that makes it obvious. We, and by ‘we’ I mean the collective ‘we’ of Dallas, still have at least 60 days of 100+ weather, but the bathing suits at Target are now on clearance and they have been replaced by cardigans and skinny jeans. The seasonal section of the store once covered in patio furniture and solar lights is now left a mess of scattered notebooks, pencils, and seventeen different types of dry-erase markers. Sigh.
A couple of weeks ago my husband took the big boys to a movie so for the first time in a while I was left with just one kid! Let’s celebrate and go to Target! Having only one kid in proximity to fry my brain cells while trying to shop made it the perfect opportunity to knock out the school supply shopping.
Two lists in hand this year, instead of one, I perused the aisles. Did you know there is a whole section dedicated to locker decorating? Yeah, apparently you can hang a chandelier on the inside of your locker? Who knew? These girls have stepped it up since the days of Jordan Knight’s photo scotch taped alongside your Lisa Frank mirror. On another aisle I picked out THE notebooks from the list and felt smug that I never had to stick to the ‘solid color’ rule. The options for Trapper Keepers is not quite what is was circa 1989, but I am happy to report that the beloved portfolios are still in existence. Pencils, paper, calculators, Oh My!
Next on the list for my soon-to-be Kindergartener:
Crayons- 48 count
I scanned the crayon section, quickly paying no attention to the Rose Art and focusing in on that famous yellow box. It has to be Crayola, right? I mean, nothing else will suffice.
There it was. I grabbed that familiar golden box with my left hand and gasped for breath. Without warning, the tears started flowing.
Up until the age of about 14, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have always said “an Artist.” I spent hours upon hours in my room, sitting at my desk, drawing and/or coloring. It started when I was about six I’d guess. I would draw my own paper dolls of different cartoon characters on notebook paper and cut them out. I added to this collection daily and saved them in a little box. Every time I went to add another, I would carefully take out all the previous ones and assess my inventory. I didn’t particularly play with these humble little paper dolls, I enjoyed just creating them, possessing, and admiring the beauty and perfection of my work. The pencils, the crayons, the colored pencils– the way they all came together on that cheap lined paper seemed so artful in my six-year-old head. And I adored coloring!!! Not just the manilla paper coloring books that sucked the life out of your markers either. I really loved the fancy over-priced ones with the good crisp white paper ideal for colored pencils or skinny markers with lots of intricate spaces for details. It was on those that I could really put my skills to work and make something to be admired.
There was such a ritual about the whole process. Beginning with my box of Crayola 48. Not just the 24, but because I had begged and begged, my parents got me the 48 box. That 48 box was like my little treasure chest. Flipping back that lid to see 48 flawless little points tickled the soul of this miniature perfectionist. After noticing the uniform points, the smell was next. Oh my heavens–the smell. The cardboard box, the new wax, the paper wrappers– all of it untainted by grubby little fingers. Once I took in the aroma, the next thing I would do would be to color code those little sticks of joy. All the reds– red, red violet, violet red, scarlet. Yes, at age six, I would have held a pretty solid argument about the difference between violet red and red violet. All the blues were next- blue, cerulean (that was later added in the early 90s to replace cornflower), turquoise, blue green, green blue… and it goes on and on. Once every crayon was in perfect place by color, the last step would be to turn them so all the labels were facing the same way. Some might call my crayon ritual OCD, but it wasn’t some off-beat quirk that I had to do, it was something that brought me so much pleasure. I never wanted for anything as a child, but at the same time I wasn’t spoiled with too many toys. I took so much pride in my things. I admired the work I had done, and pretended I was being patted on the back for it.
In most ways, school really played to my desire for perfection. I made it my goal to make every teacher love me, make all my assignments flawless, and never make a peep out of line. On occasion though a teacher would assign whole class art project or a “give yourself the grade you deserve” and I could not handle it. Of course I kept it together on the outside, but inside, my head was spinning and my heart was racing because of all the unknowns. The desire to be right and perfect far outweighed the freedom I might have found from embracing something so…well… freeing. I needed structure with everything; a specific end goal to accomplish for which someone could praise my perfection. I didn’t have my 48 box with me, but when everything in my little world would crumble, at least I could pull out my school appointed ’24’ box and account for them all, line them up, and make something perfect with them to restore order to the world.
That desire for approval and striving for perfection has carried into my entire life. It is something I struggle with still. I may go days or months where things don’t seem to bother me and I don’t have a care in the world. There are seasons even where I’m like, “I’m Becca, I am Beloved, and I am awesome.” But then sometimes I am drug to dark, ugly places in my soul where I feel like if there is no order or no one notices something great I have done, then I’m worthless. The struggle of trying to be the perfect wife and the perfect mom eat me alive some days. Freedom from worry sometime seems like a fictitious unicorn. I often put my entire worth in completing a task, making something pretty, or someone else’s view of me. The tools I use to get me there were always found in my perfect little proverbial 48 Box.
The truth is–> I am first and foremost, free in the love of Christ. My current ‘golden box’ probably looks more like the leftover bin of broken crayons. It’s a mix of Rose Art, chunks of Crayola, and like, a random white colored pencil. Daily, I have to preach to myself and remind myself that there is no ‘coloring page’ I can complete, no ‘test’ I can ace, no list to check off, and no ‘project’ to turn in that would make me more loveable and perfect in the eyes of Christ than I already am. Other than loving and glorifying my King, there is nothing I can try to do that is a result of having a perfect little treasure box. At the end of my life, I won’t be sitting back and admiring all the ‘work’ I have done because it doesn’t matter. The only things that matters is that I find rest in a Saviour who doesn’t care if I use the leftover crayon bin or a chewed up ball point pen. My treasures are not in a little golden box that I can admire but they are stored up in my messy heart.
So I cried in the store when I grabbed the 48 Box for Lincoln’s list because I was instantly reminded of everything it represented. Inside that box lives my own weaknesses and they have haunted me and caused me so much grief. I cried because my sweet Lincoln is just. like. me. He strives for perfection in everything. It cripples him so much that he will not even attempt anything if he knows he can’t do it correctly. Learning to use utensils and hold a pencil was a long uphill battle. He wouldn’t even willingly write his name until recently because he was so self-conscious of how it didn’t look like adult writing. I pray that mess ups, second tries, and even total fails would not push him away from Jesus deeper into his sin, but it would draw him into the Lord and allow him to realize that God is bigger than anything else. My heart’s desire is that he would learn to find freedom in walking alongside his Creator rather than racing to a perfect end point.
So friends, I pray that you would find freedom outside of that little treasure box— Freedom from worry, freedom from trying to please, freedom from fear of messing up. I pray that the only opinion that weighs in is the one of the one who made you and his answer is already this: “My beautiful, beloved with whom I am well pleased.” Christ has finished any work or task you might think you need to do so that you can sit back, relax, and love Him well.