As we watched, students poured out of the school building and into the parking lot filled with waiting school buses, signaling the end of another school day, no different than any other weekday of the school year. However, today was different. The students seemed more boisterous, celebratory even. And with good reason. Today is the last day of this school year. With the end of the school day, summer break has officially began. Something else was different too. On their way out, students were given a gift. Packets of books were handed to each student as they exited the building – a kind of “parting gift” for the summer, if you will.
Teachers also received this unexpected free gift, so I, too, received this package of six paperback books, a summer reading journal, activity sheets for each book and a set of colored pencils. I felt suddenly rich, excited and grateful to be the recipient of such a generous present. Of course, I love to read, so books are valuable to me and greatly treasured. Turns out, this provision of a gift for each and every student is made possible by Scholastic and is part of their “My Books Summer” program. They partner with inner city public schools like ours, where budgets are tight, because they want to provide students with resources that will help them but that they might not otherwise receive.
I have looked through my package of books and can’t wait to start my summer reading with these new titles. They are from a variety of authors and cover a variety of topics. I noticed that at least three of the books are true stories about real people and their real life struggles and experiences. Words on the cover of one book say, “True stories of survival and hope in Syria.” I briefly wonder how many of our students even know that Syria is a country, how many could find Syria on a map, how many know where it is located in this world? But that says more about our public education system today than it does about the unrealized abilities of our students.
Syria may be far from where these inner city students live but they, and all of us really, can identify with the themes of struggling to survive and holding onto hope, no matter where we live. These are universal themes because they are universal human realities. With our current culture’s increased crime, murder and daily danger in our city’s streets and the accompanying sense of loss and despair, we can certainly relate to themes of survival and hope found in these books. Reading and learning the stories of others, connects us in ways that may be intangible, but these connections are nonetheless real and life changing. (one of the books is the true story of two pen pals who come from different cultures, countries and continents)
These books are full of treasure waiting to be discovered with the turning of each page and the unfolding of each story, whether fact or fiction. (one looks to be a mystery thriller and another an adventure fantasy) Now you know why I felt so rich after receiving this unexpected free gift of books – a gift I didn’t have to buy nor earn. It was simply offered to me. All I had to do was to accept it, take it home and open it up. (which as you know, I have done) Books allow me to learn things I couldn’t learn any other way, to travel to places I couldn’t otherwise go and to time travel as well, into both the past and the future. I don’t need a time machine. Just an autobiography, written by someone who lived long ago in some far away place will transport me to that other time and that other place without the necessity of a machine not yet in existence. Books are a free passport to anywhere, anytime. Books allow me to see the world through someone else’s eyes and experiences. Books breed empathy and understanding.
So perhaps, dear readers, you can appreciate my absolute horror at what I witnessed as I watched the students leaving the school building and heading toward the buses on this final day of school. It was so surprising, so unexpected, so unthinkable – that for a moment I didn’t believe what I was seeing. But it continued and it was undeniable. It started with one student who threw their pack of brand new books on the ground. Another student followed suite, and then one, shouting loudly, did an overhand dunk and threw his book pack into the nearby open school dumpster. Other students quickly copied this behavior, throwing their books into the open dumpster as well. (teenagers are notorious copycats)
By this time, some of the packs were breaking open, leaving books scattered on the ground as more students continued to exit the building, heading for the buses. So now a “food fight” except with books being thrown instead of food, broke out as the crowd of students continued in the direction of the buses. I felt helpless. I wanted to rescue each and every book and save them for someone who actually wanted them. (kind of like not wasting food when people are starving?) I heard that students were throwing the books out the bus windows as well. This made me inexplicably sad. Even though I had accepted my free gift, I wanted each student to experience the joy of their free gift as well. I knew what they were missing out on, but they had no idea the value of the treasure they had been given but had so casually, in some instances cruelly, discarded, thrown into the dumpster without even a backward glance or a second thought about the free gift they had just rejected.
As I headed home, I continued to grieve for the students’ loss. They had held treasure in their hands for those few moments in time, yet they chose to throw it in the trash rather than to open it up and discover its contents. I wonder if that’s how our Heavenly Father feels about us? He has given each one of us a free gift – but not all of us have accepted His extraordinary, extravagant gift. The gift has been given. It is up to me and to you and to each one of us whether we will accept God’s gift, take it home and open it up. God’s gift? His Son, Jesus!
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“And this is the testimony; God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)
Jesus Himself said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
God wants to give us this wonderful gift of His Son, which includes forgiveness of our sins, eternal life with Him, peace, hope, joy – so many things the world can’t give me or you or anyone. But are we ready to receive and to open God’s free gift? Colossians 2:2-3 reveals more about this free gift of God –
“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
There’s a lot to unwrap in this gift – the “riches of understanding”, the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” – all included with the gift of His Son. In fact, Romans 8:32 tells us –
“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”
There is so much included in the gift of Jesus, but I will never know this if I don’t accept the gift and open it up, just like I did my package of free books to find out all that was in there that I didn’t even know was included until I opened the package. Jesus said,
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 5:20)
God’s gift has been given. Will I throw it in the dumpster? Or will I open the door and invite Him in? Just like the books for the students, God’s gift of His Son is a free gift and it is a gift offered to all people equally, to “whoever believes.” Ephesians 2:7-9 makes this clear, saying –
“in order that in the coming ages He (God) might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
The free gift of God is His Son, Jesus. When I accept God’s gift of Jesus, I receive forgiveness, salvation, abundant life, eternal life, mercy, reconciliation, healing, hope, wisdom, identity, meaning, purpose – everything I need for life and godliness. I would be foolish to throw all that away without ever opening the gift to discover for myself the treasures hidden within. Only a fool leaves free treasure unopened.
I have this treasure with me today in the form of the Holy Spirit and God’s Living Word. I dare not leave the treasure of God’s Word, the Bible, unopened when it is God’s free gift to me every day – His Living Word. I open up this treasure every day and find His mercies new every morning. Lord, may I never leave Your priceless gift, Your treasure, unopened, but instead receive it gladly, new every day.
“Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God -” (John 1:12)
such a gift, such treasure, is simply too valuable to throw in the dumpster or out the window –
sincerely, Grace Day