In one of my early years of teaching, I came home telling my husband Brandon about my day at school. As I was rattling on, I began telling him about lunch when one of my very sweet students, LeBrian, bought me a pint of chocolate milk.
LeBrian was a kind-hearted little guy who struggled greatly in school but excelled in relationships. Every child and teacher adored him.
On that particular day, LeBrian had been saying all morning that he wanted to buy me a carton of milk at lunchtime. I had tried to gently dissuade him, had politely smiled and then nodded in agreement and lastly had ignored his proclamations.
Honestly, I thought he would forget by lunch.
See, my rational self knew LeBrian needed to keep that money for himself. The carton of milk wasn’t expensive, but money wasn’t plentiful around his house.
And it is with this line of (rational) thinking that I messed up, to the point that I almost tear up when I think back about this brief lunch exchange some 10 years ago.
He Bought The Milk
LeBrian didn’t remember his multiplication facts well, even with lots of one-on-one instruction. But LeBrian remembered to buy his teacher a carton of milk that fateful day.
After we all sat down and began eating, I felt a little tap on my shoulder and I turned around. There stood LeBrian holding chocolate milk extended towards me and a giant smile on his face.
And what I did next still haunts me today.
I, too, smiled and politely told LeBrian to keep the milk.
I told him that it was a kind gesture, but that he needed to drink it himself.
I can still see his smile fade as he turned around and headed back to his table. I went back to eating with my teacher friends, us all commenting on how thoughtful LeBrian was. But, I didn’t think much more about the exchange until I was telling Brandon later that night.
He Said Keep The Milk
It was Brandon who shed a different light on my milk transaction (or lack of one).
Brandon scolded me, saying, “You should have kept the milk. He wanted you to have it. It was a way of showing his love for you.”
It was in this conversation that I realized my rational self had stomped on the gift of a little boy. LeBrian didn’t read well, but he did other things well…like run, dance and, most importantly, show love.
I went back to school the next day and tried to make things right. I told LeBrian how him thinking of me yesterday at lunch meant a lot to me. And like any resilient 4th grader, he seemed to bounce back.
But still…I should have kept the milk.
A good friend of mine is going through a very difficult time right now. Family and friends have reached out with monetary gifts and gift cards as gestures of love…to at least smooth the financial path in a scary health crisis. As she and I talked on the phone one day, I encouraged her to accept these things willingly. I reminded her that people wouldn’t offer these gifts if they didn’t want to. She then spoke up and quoted her husband’s thoughts on the matter. He said, “Don’t rob them of their joy of giving. We have no idea what God has placed on their hearts to do.”
His words have stayed in my heart ever since that conversation.
I couldn’t help but think back about what Brandon was telling me all those years ago about LeBrian’s gift of chocolate milk.
He Gave A Dollar
A couple of days ago, my two sons and I were preparing for lunch. I had asked them to clean up the toys (I mean like 1 million) they had strewn through the house while I worked on lunch.
I was just about to peel a boiled egg when I remembered how much my oldest son loves to do that. (Don’t ask me why. I guess we all have weird things we love to do. Peeling eggs is one of his.)
I called to him and asked my little man to do get to peelin'.
In a moment of generosity, I told him that I would take over his cleaning duties as he peeled the egg.
When he finished (a job he likes but not particularly fast at it), I had the living room picked up. As he turned from the kitchen, I heard him say to himself, “Now to finish cleaning up.”
I responded, “It’s done, kiddo.”
My little guy whipped around with a huge smile on his face and gave my waist a too-tight squeeze. I ruffled his hair and turned to finish preparing lunch.
When he returned to the kitchen a minute later waving a crisp dollar bill, I just glanced his direction.
Then, he walked up and proudly presented the money to me. “Thanks, momma, for doing my part in the living room.”
And I hesitated taking it for a split second. Then, my LeBrian moment and my conversation on the joy of giving came rushing into my mind.
I Kept The Dollar
This time, I didn’t make the same mistake I did 10 years ago. I kept the gift.
I wanted my little man to experience the joy of giving. To know what it's like to give freely and someone accept it graciously. (I can't help but think of our Heavenly Father here, the gift He gave so lovingly and allows us to accept freely.)
If I want my little man to be a giver in his adult life, he has to experience it even in childhood.
When he turned 5 my husband and I began paying him to complete some specific chores each week. (Not all chores are payable; some are simply expected because he is a member of our family.)
A few weeks back, he did a wonderful job, went above and beyond on one of his paid-for jobs. I gave him a “bonus dollar” and explained not to expect this every time, but I wanted to reward his extra effort. I further told him that a boss may choose to do this, too, when an employee does an exceptional job.
Y’all, my little man was giving me a “bonus” for going above and beyond in helping him clean. :) What I saw it as a fair trade off in work, he saw as an extra-special thing I did.
So he gifted me with a crisp dollar bill.
And I kept it.