Year B, Fifth after Pentecost. Lectionary reading for June 27, 2021: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Have you ever received a gift so small, you knew it was the biggest thing someone could give? As an early years teacher, I have been the lucky recipient of countless handfuls of dandelions, and you better believe I make a fuss over them every time. Once, a little girl stopped eating her cookie halfway through and gave it to me. We weren’t in a global pandemic back then, and I decided she needed to see me eat the cookie more than I needed to worry about germs.

One Christmas about 6 years ago, my little loves were giving me little gifts before the holiday began. Most of my students came from homes that struggled to make ends meet; some were just plain poor. I tried to find a delicate balance between making the children who brought gifts feel appreciated while not making those who had no gifts feel bad. “Your smile is all I need for Christmas,” I would tell them.

Little E had no gift, no lunch, no backpack, and nobody to watch him sing in the Christmas concert. As much as I tried to reassure him, I could see it bothered him that he hadn’t brought a gift. Right around the end of the day, as everyone was packing up for the break, he brought me this gift:

While I treasure any gift, be it a fistful of dandelions or a box of chocolates, E’s drawing will be a gift I never forget. At the beginning of the day, he felt left out because he had nothing to give, but by the end of the day, he gave me a work of art I will always cherish.

As adults, we all know the parable of the widow’s offering, but the children in your ministry might not. Consider reading it to them (Mark 12:41-44), especially if you have a good story bible. The thing about being a little kid though, is sometimes they don’t even have two pennies to give. Today’s book is a beautiful tale of generosity that can teach little ones they always have something to give if it comes from the heart.

In Patricia McKissack’s story What is Given From the Heart, James Otis and his mama have nothing. It has been a difficult year: Daddy died, they lost the farm, and the dog disappeared. When Reverend Dennis tells his flock that Sarah and her mother lost everything in a fire, James Otis can’t imagine what he could possibly add to the ‘love box’ the church will give them on Valentine’s Day. He keeps thinking of the Reverend’s words: “what is given from the heart reaches the heart.”

Mama finds a way to help Sarah’s mother, and James Otis has a great idea too—but I won’t spoil it for you. Let’s just say that you might need tissues to get through this book. Even when it seems we have nothing to give, if we look in our hearts, there’s something we can offer. Wildflowers, a drawing, even a smile are precious gifts when given in eagerness.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What is the best present you’ve ever given someone?
  • Do presents need to cost a lot of money?
  • What could you give someone if you didn’t have any money at all?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Did James Otis and his Mama know they were going to get a love box?
  • Do you think they might have given differently if they had known?
  • What would you put in the love box for James Otis and his Mama?

Special note: this book portrays an obviously poor Black American family and community. This is an opportunity to talk about the systems that kept Black people poor and marginalized in Canada and the United States, in terms that are meaningful to the age group you teach. I think it is also important to specifically tell your kiddos that not all Black people are poor, as sadly, many books focus on Black struggles rather than Black successes. This book is a gem and a great conversation starter, but please make sure you have other books that feature Black characters outside the poverty, trauma, and slavery tropes. Contact me if you need some more suggestions!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you add this great book to your ministry library. Be sure to check your library and local bookstores first, but it is available on Amazon as well.

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