School is getting ready to start and the kids were talking about back to school shopping the other day. The start of a new school year is always an exciting and stressful time. Overall, my school experience was pretty awesome.
But not one year.
I can remember getting my first pair of name brand shoes like it was yesterday. You have no idea how huge this was to me! When I hit middle school my father’s business exploded (and not in the good way) and being a kid all I understood was that I no longer got the clothes I thought I needed.
This all happened as I was starting 6th grade. So into the jungle of middle school I went wearing off-brand or handmade clothes. I realize and understand now how fortunate I was to even have clothes, period. Much of the world lives on less than $1-$2 a day and I’m complaining because my mom made some of my clothes?
Petty? Very much so.
Reality? Very much so.
So as I started off into the wild blue of middle school I walked in feeling pretty insecure. I knew who I was but at that moment in my life it really didn’t matter, what mattered was what others thought of me. And what others thought of me was just another kid without the right names on his clothes.
I understand now that these things are of no importance. I will buy jeans at Wal-Mart just as easily as I will at Gap. If they fit and are comfortable and I like them, then that’s all that I care about—now. But as a 12-year-old boy trying to fit in there was literally nothing more important in my life.
And I was completely consumed by all of this despite an upbringing that spoke against that.
The first time I got a pair of name-brand shoes was from a friend. He had an old pair of Nike Air Jordan’s and he gave them to me. I held them like I was holding the Holy Grail.
These Jordan’s had the power to change my life. I could climb the social ladder with these bad boys.
So I took them home and excitedly told my parents what my friend had done for me. They gave me some shoe glue for a tear in the leather and shoe polish to help spruce them up. I worked on them all weekend. I was meticulous with my work, with all due diligence I made them look as new as humanly possible.
That Monday I wore my “new” Jordan’s with great pride. I held my head a little higher and walked with a hop in my step.
Gym class was awesome. Apparently, new shoes making you run faster and jump higher carries over into middle school. All was good until a few of the “cool” guys started talking and asking questions. It soon was known that my Jordan’s were hand-me downs, my balloon was popped!
I vividly remember the looks I got from a few of the guys and the jokes some of them said to me in line at lunch. I was made to feel inferior and less of a person. I honestly felt horrible about the fact that I wore second hand shoes. I can still remember the embarrassment.
The rest of my sixth grade was seemingly laid in stone. I was put in the lowest class of student and was not allowed out of that simply based on what I wore. Please don’t misread what I’m saying, I still had friends and I still had moments of real fun but overall my 6th grade year was horrible. This started a downward cycle for me that included being bullied (a post for another day). A lot of that had to do with what I wore and the judgment I received from those “cool” kids.
As a parent, I struggle with teaching my children this life lesson. We are not what we wear or where we live or what we drive. We all have intrinsic value simply because we are humans and are created in the image of God. People should treat one another with love and respect because we are people.
Here are a few ways to combat that materialism that invades every aspect of our culture.
Don’t BE materialistic.
This is a hard one. It’s difficult because it’s SO EASY! To fall in that trap all you have to do is stop paying attention. It feels good to wear the best or drive the best or live in the best. But that’s all it is…a trap! We must be better than that. We have to show our kids that we are more than just consumers.
An easy way to start this conversation is through the commercials aimed at our children. Ever see an ad that overtly promises your child great fun if they play with this toy? Make fun of it! By the time my daughter was in Pre-K she understood that just because the kids on TV were having fun or looking cool didn’t mean that was the way it was. Part of that lesson was learned when we decided to buy her one of those toys. Once she got it and started to play with it she quickly realized how lame it was.
But it’s a lesson that must be re-learned over the years.
Give them a better story.
I feel like if we give our children better stories to live, the trivial stuff will stay just that. Let me give you an example.
When I took our oldest into downtown St. Louis to feed the homeless the first time she was scared to death. The first person she handed a sandwich too was done so with knees knocking and hands shaking. But soon she understood that they were people just like us. Some of them were addicts caught in a vicious cycle, some chose the lifestyle, some were mentally ill and others had just fallen on hard times. Regardless of the reason they were still people. And only by the grace of God there go I!
Over doing this several times she began to see that people have value no matter their station in life. The brand of clothing became less of an issue because her life didn’t revolve around what store this or that came from. She was living a better story.
Understand that my daughter is not a Mother Theresa and still struggles just like everyone else and we have to reteach this lesson often but we always go back to these stories to remind her of who she really is.
Monkey see, monkey do.
Treat others how you would like to be treated.
Treat people with respect and humility.
Jesus taught us to do three things:
I would encourage all of you parents, and not just middle school parents, to live differently. And to do that doesn’t mean you have to sell all your belongings and give it to the poor. All that means is to see things as they truly are. People are people and should be treated with respect.
To teach our children who they really are and that that is not based on what they were is a lesson well worth any struggle. The quicker they learn that the better the life they will lead.
To this day, I can remember the looks and whispers of those kids. It’s a scar that I will carry till the day I die. But I’m thankful for it now. They taught me a hard lesson but valuable nonetheless. It is one of the reasons that I am who I am today. It is one of the biggest reasons that I can connect with people of any demographic. So to all you who were total jack-wagons to me in middle school, I have only one thing to say to you, thank you.