Well, it’s here.  Some are excited and relieved.  Others not so much.  No matter how you view it, however, fall means back to school.  You would think I’d have the timing of this ritual ingrained in my mind after about 23 years of sending my kids to school.  Not so fast.  As I stood in a long line at a local store last week, I shook my head with disappointment when I realized I had decided to shop the night EVERY family in Elk Grove was at the SAME store buying school supplies.  Shopping carts were full of notebooks, pens, pencils, lined paper, new shoes, and backpacks.   Kids looking excited.  Parents looking tired.

My kids are now all in college.  And as I stood in that REALLY long line, I thought about all the things I DID NOT miss about their earlier years in school.  Homework.  Last-minute school projects.  (Oh, they weren’t ASSIGNED last-minute…they were REMEMBERED last-minute.) Oh, and my all-time UN-favorite – class potlucks.  By senior year all of my children knew my “Potluck Policy:” Ask me early enough and you get to bring lumpia.  Late – you’re bringing drinks, chips and/or paper products.  I still remember the proud look on my sons’ faces when they announced a last minute potluck but grinned ear to ear and said, “Don’t worry Mom – WE are bringing plastic utensils.”  (Did I raise smart kids or what?)

But the backpacks in those other shopping carts brought back some other less-than-stellar memories.

They always began with a direction for one of my children to clean out his/her backpack.  Maybe it was Thanksgiving Break.  Or Christmas.  Or – gulp – the end of the year.  I knew the books had been turned in.  The lunch bag/box was sitting in the kitchen.  So why was the backpack in question still full?  Inevitably, I was told by a child, “It isn’t ‘too bad.’” (Why does this statement never really comfort me?) You know, I would reply, we need to decide if you can use this backpack next year of if we are just going to throw it away.  THROW IT AWAY????  No Mom, I want to use that next year and I will need everything in there.  It is all IMPORTANT.

And then the “unveiling” as I pulled out various and sundry items.  Uh…what is this?  What are THESE? (I have asked these questions while staring at my kids’ shrugging shoulders more times than I care to admit.) “Mom, that’s just my stuff.  I need it for school.  Don’t worry about it.”  A crumpled up, never-used, origami-like piece of lined paper.  Really?  A wrapper from a long-forgotten piece of candy.  Seriously?  Crumbs and bits of I-don’t-even-want-to-know-what.  Come on.  A broken, gnawed on pencil.  Hey, I will BUY you new pencils!  This needs to be cleaned out I would tell them.  And they would look back at me with pained expressions on their faces while trying to convince me they needed to keep ALL these random items in their backpacks without ever actually being able to articulate a remotely valid reason.  I remember the frustration in my voice as I said something to the effect of, “I don’t care, clean it out anyway.”  NOW.

The backpacks in other shoppers’ carts made me think.  Of how there are SO MANY new cartoon characters I no longer recognize.  Okay, no, not just that.  Actually, I thought about something I don’t clean out often enough.  Not my purse.  Or my closet.  (Good guesses, though.) No – my heart.  The “bag” I carry around inside of me.   You know – the place I bury my anger.  Store my resentment.  Carry around my long-held fears.  Just like the questionable items in the bottom of my kids’ bags, they serve no good purpose.  But, when I take a look at them,  I realize I have a tendency to want to hold on to them.  Cleaning out a backpack should take about five minutes.  A heart?  Yeah, that takes a bit longer.  That involves more effort.  But have you ever carried around an empty backpack?  It feels weird, doesn’t it?  Our hearts are not made to hold onto hurt and anger and resentment and fear, but they ARE meant to hold on to something else.  God’s Word.  A school backpack is designed to carry all a student needs to navigate a school year.  But when kids start keeping all sorts of other things in them, there is no room for books, lunch, notebooks.  The irony is the heavy backpack is not even holding what the kid NEEDS!  And how often do I lug around my heavy heart full of everything I DON’T need?  Don’t need to live.  To have joy.   To serve my Savior.  Too often.  Memories, failures, unfulfilled dreams.  My “backpack” gets full of unnecessary, useless items so quickly.   And do I look at my Heavenly Father with a pained expression trying to think of excuses for holding onto all the stuff which keeps me from having room for Him?

Unlike our kids, we don’t get to buy new bags each year.  Unless we clean out the ones we’ve got, frequently and thoroughly, we will miss out on the joy of carrying around the greatest Gift of all.

So I guess it’s time for me to do some cleaning.  I will make this backpack look just like new….

First, though, I am going to need a garbage bag.

A really, really big one.

“I have hidden your word in my heart so that I won’t sin against you.”  Psalm 119:11 NIrV

Melinda Lamera
Sun Grove Children’s Ministry