Our Brown Paper Bags

“I’m excited to share my bag today!”

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My daughter Kara, bursting with anticipation, declared her elation to me over and over before going to school.  In Kara’s backpack was a crumpled, plain, brown paper bag that contained two rocks, a rope, and three photos.  Honestly, it was not very exhilarating. In fact, it was extremely ordinary, yet she carried this bag like a rare treasure containing priceless jewels.

See the rocks, weren’t just rocks.  These seemingly plain garden rocks were transformed into a puppy dog as she carefully hand painted them.  The rope wasn’t just a rope.  It represented her love for swinging, twirling, and flipping on the ropes hung under our giant tree that she spent hours on dreaming of being an aerial performer.  As for the three photos, one showed our crazy family on Christmas morning, another captured her brother and her hugging after a swim practice, and the other one was from her first alpine hike which she embellished with embroidered pink running stitches and purple French knots.

Kara walked out the door excited to share her items without knowing there was something more valuable being shown.  Kara was not actually excited about the six items in her bag.  No, she was anticipating being seen.  She was eager to share a bit of her soul because she wanted others to know who she was and hoped they would like what she revealed.

Inside of this unassuming paper bag were pieces of Kara.  Pieces so precious that if kids laughed, it would crush her and if they oohed and ahhed, she would have wings to soar.  Kara didn’t realize all of this as she walked out the door, but it was occurring nonetheless.

After my daughter left, I thought about her bag.  I found myself asking, “Isn’t this true for all of us?  Don’t we want to be known?  And if we don’t want to be known, isn’t it usually because somewhere in the past, the contents of our brown paper bag were shared and poorly received or even completely rejected?”

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Hoping no one would mock my tender, excited second grader, I shot up a quick, earnest prayer asking God to protect her heart and be her identity. Then I started to think about this paper bag even more.

Kara’s assignment had been to put a few things in a bag that she wanted to share about herself.  As any person would, Kara wanted to put in objects that she liked. She wanted to put her best foot forward by sharing that which was fun, pretty, and exciting. She did not want to bring the rocks that flew from her hand through our neighbor’s window.  She wasn’t eager to show a spelling test she forgot to study for. There was no rush to put in the banana peel she left in my car.  Kara was not jumping at the chance to pack her bag full of unsightly things.

If Kara’s assignment had been to bring such unsightly items, she would not have been as excited to share.  She would not have been bouncing out the door in anticipation, but rather fighting in tears to stay home.  She would not have been hopeful for classmates’ approval but worried about classmates’ condemnation.  She would not be optimistic about being known and accepted but would fear being seen and rejected.

I imagine her next steps would be to quickly hide her soul in some protective wrapping or behind a self-made fortress.  She would find a way to hide herself from hurt.  From inside her barrier she would still want to be known but skeptical about there being a safe place for it.  From behind her wall she would want to share and be embraced but would question if that were possible.

What if Kara did have to show the bag of unpleasant things?  What if her assignment had been to bring three things that showed the best of her and three things that showed the worst of her?  And even more, what if when she did she wasn’t rejected but embraced.  What if her friends and her teacher said, “Thank you for sharing.  We love you, we understand you, we embrace you and we value you in your entirety.”  What if in a second grader way, her peers all said, “We cherish all the parts of you, good and bad.”

If Kara’s class reacted this way it would have been, at the deepest level, what Kara was really hoping for.  I imagine if that scenario played out and she felt accepted in the inspiring and the unwelcoming pieces of her soul, it would have been life changing.

To be known in our entirety and still be loved is a powerful, transformative thing.

I prayed for Kara that morning.  I prayed to the One who is a safe place for the stone fortress’ to crumble, to the One who is a safe place and the protective wrapping isn’t needed, to the One that knows every unpleasant part of her and still loves all of her.

I cried out that she would know, in the depths of her being, that the God who sees everyone’s brown paper bags, was with her. I prayed that no matter what happened that day, Kara would understand she is seen, known, and loved by one who is greater than a whole classroom full of peers. I earnestly petitioned for Kara to understand that with Christ we are free to be vulnerable and can bring all we have to display before him.  I hoped Kara would experience this in her classroom, but prayed hard that she would live this with Jesus.

I wish I could say I am as excited as my daughter to share my brown paper bag.  I wish I could say I eagerly share with Jesus and with others what is in my soul.  Truth is, the years have jaded me a bit.  Peoples’ unkind words, taunting looks, or unwillingness to understand who I am has made me tread lightly when I go into a sharing space.  This is true in social circles, at church, and sadly with Jesus.

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But this day, as Kara boldly walked out the door, I was challenged.  I was challenged to accept the truth that I am fully known and loved by Christ.  I was challenged to walk in wise vulnerability with others.  And I was challenged to be a place people would be safe and even excited to share their own brown paper bags.  I could imagine the revolution that would happen in my own heart and the hearts of those around me as these challenges are lived out.  What a beautiful transformation it would be!

2 thoughts on “Our Brown Paper Bags

  1. I love you dearly and that you are a friend that I would show absolutely anything in my brown paper bag and that you’ve already seen pretty much all of it and love me still, maybe even more. So proud of your courage to speak out loud to the world that needs your voice.

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