I recently read a book called, 7, by Jen Hatmaker. In the book the author recounts a conversation she had with a homeless man who told her what the homeless need most, outside of food (of course), is shoes. He said that they're on their feet all day long, and therefore, many of them have ruined feet, aching backs, and burning legs. You mean to tell me my $5- value meal from McDonald's isn't what they really like/want/need? Shameful, shallow heartbreak. (sigh.)
And so begins this shoe story. A story that wrote itself, through other people.
A short time after finishing 7, my stepdad sat on my couch and told me how his mom was poor and didn't have money for her kids' shoes. He told me how he had one pair of shoes -- his band shoes. He wore them everyday, for all occasions, not just for band. The first day he wore them to school someone caught one of his shoes with theirs and accidentally ripped his shoe. He said, "I was over there in the corner trying to sew up my shoe." Imagining a younger version of my stepdad sewing his shoe nearly broke me down, but he was smiling, so I refrained. He described the shoes. They were black, and pointy at the toes. I squinted trying to picture them. I grinned, trying to hold it together. And then he told me about the time his sister went to school barefoot. He said, "Man. I felt so bad for her. She was over there on the bus trying to hide her feet because she was so embarrassed." And then he laughs, "She came home with 3 new pairs of shoes that day."
And then there was the time my daughter came home and announced that it was a classmate's birthday tomorrow, and we needed to buy her a present.
"Okay. Well, I'm going to Walmart tonight. What's she into? Do you think she'd like a Barbie or something?"
"Well...ummm...maybe shoes? Her shoes are really tore up." (Stop-what-I'm-doing-pause.)
Trying to wrap my mind around her proposition I say, "We can't do shoes. I don't know her size."
"She probably wears my size." (My heart sinks lower.)
"But, we don't know for sure, so we can't do that." (I feel terrible.)
"Maybe a warm coat?" (You are killing me, kid!)
"Umm, well, we don't have a lot of extra money. How about a warm hat and gloves? And maybe some candy?"
"Welllll, okay. Yeah. That, or a Nintendo DSI." (Oh, okay, right, let's do that. That's only $300 smack-er-roos. No prob.)
So, the next day my daughter brought her the small gift, and a snack for her to eat during snack time. (This child rarely brought snack for snack time. Maybe she just forgot, or maybe she didn't have something to bring. Either way, a bag of chips couldn't hurt. I heard she loved the gift, and enjoyed the snack. It turns out she forgot hers that day.)
From this same daughter I've heard, "So-and-so needs shoes. He always wears the same ones, and they're all ripped up."
(Jesus? Is that You?)
Before I knew it, I found myself engaged in a conversation with the counselor at my daughters' elementary school. I found out that there were 29 kids at the school who could use some extra help. During our conversation the counselor mentioned shoes. (Hello again.) She said many of the children will have outgrown their shoes come year-end, and if they haven't already outgrown them, then they will have worn them out for sure.
So, my friend Sarah Webster and I teamed up, and asked around for $20.00 donations for 29 pairs of shoes. Between us asking, and generous hearts responding, we raised $732- in a matter of 2 weeks. Friends asked friends. Family from across the country sent money. A generous church across the street from the school jumped in. A miracle unfolded. Feet were measured at school, and shoes were in sight. The original plan was to shop at Walmart where you can easily get a pair of tennis shoes for $20.00. But God isn't going out like that. He's way too cool. So, Jesus's friend, James Cook came alongside us and contributed big time. We found 17 pairs of the shoes on our list at his amazing store, Cook's in North Wilkesboro. (Shop there if you can.) We found the highest quality, coolest looking shoes there. I'm talking, Vans, Nike, Puma, and other awesome name brands I'm not cool enough to know. We were shopping in the clearance section, digging through boxes and boxes of shoes that would originally sell for $60.00. Our budget was $19.99/pair. There were only a few shoes marked down to $19.99. The rest were in the $39.99 range. We were nervous, but the good folks at Cook's encouraged us to keep shopping...so we did. A stack of 17 shoe boxes later and we were ready to checkout. We don't even know how deep the discount went, but it was bigger than big. Every single pair was marked down to $19.99. Generosity to the max. Sarah and I couldn't get over how different the shoes were, and how each kid was probably going to receive the exact shoes they'd pick for themselves if they could've been there to shop. That's just how the miraculous works. It's like magic, only better. And to watch it all happen is awe-inspiring.
|This is Naomi next to the shoe boxes. She's Sarah's super cute daughter, and our super shopper helper!|
|We loaded them up and headed out.|
|BIG THANKS TO COOK'S!|
We left Cooks and headed across town to Burlington Shoes. No discounts there, but no problem. God makes the impossible, possible. Wouldn't you know that the 11 pairs of shoes we found there averaged out to be about $19.99/pair. Some shoes were $26.99, and some were $16.99. Most were $19.99. It just worked out. World Industries, Sketchers, Converse...the coolest shoes. Score.
One more pair across the street at Shoe Show, for just the right price, and we were done. I'm not sure you could measure the joy in our hearts, but if I had to guess I'd say it was somewhere in the out-of-our-minds register.
But there's more, we had change - a cool $120.00. We hit Walmart!
29 boxes of peanut butter bars. 29 boxes of cheese crackers. 29 boxes of crayons. 29 bars of soap. 29 million thanks and shouts of praise in our hearts.
Quick stop at Food Lion for paper bags to bag everything in, and we were done. I'm pretty sure I floated into my house. I bet Sarah did too. It felt like we just got to witness Jesus feed 5,000 people with one small boy's lunch, for real!
We delivered the shoes on a Monday morning first thing. No big deal, except for the man who asked us what we were doing. Sarah explained. The man told us how when he was little he didn't have any good shoes, so he saved and saved and then found his way to a local thrift store where he bought himself some shoes. He got a great striped pair for $3.00. He thought they looked pretty cool until he got to school and was teased for wearing bowling shoes. He laughed and told us how he now owns more shoes than he needs...more than his wife, even. He hated the feeling of being made fun of. I hated it for him. But I loved the coincidental run-in with him to encourage Sarah and I that shoes really do make a difference.
Cut to after school. I'm carried away chatting with Sarah in the car line about random, unrelated events, when I begin to catch Food Lion bags swimming through the parking lot. A quiet thanks to Jesus, and my heart soared. I got to see a few of the sweet faces for myself.
One of my daughter's got into the car and told me that 2 of the Food Lion bags were delivered to her classroom. She said, "I didn't say a word but I watched the 2 boys open them. One of them was like, 'Dude! Check out my new shoes. These are awesome! They're skate shoes.' Now, the other boy, he didn't say a word. He just sat there with the biggest smile on his face." I looked at my daughter in the rear-view mirror. She was beaming, almost bursting. Her joy flooded our car. The best part is that she knew for a fact that we didn't buy those shoes and snacks, etc. for the kids. She knew the whole story, from beginning to end. She got to see God do His work, and she was blessed. We all were.
Sarah told me she watched a little girl run out of her classroom, shouting, "Mama, Mama. Zappatos!!!"
And then these notes came yesterday...
"To Who It May Concern: We like to thank you for all the gifts you have gave (girl's name). She loves the shoes a lot and uses all the supplies. Thank you again and hope you have a great summer."
"Dear sponsor, Hi. My name is (boy's name). I would like to write you this note to tell you thank you for my new shoes and snacks that you provided for me for my summer break. Everything that you did really helped me and my family out. Thank you."
"Thank you for the shoes and the cakes and crackers. We will enjoy them."
"To Whom It May Concern, Thank you for the shoes, snacks and toys. Our family enjoyed these things from you."
And then there were 2 other thank you's done in crayon, (probably with the crayons they received).
"Thank you for the shoes, food and snacks. We greatly appreciate them. Hope you have a good summer." 3rd grader
"Thank you for the food, shoes, crayons and the snacks. We greatly appreciated it. Hope you have a wonderful summer." 3rd grader
Sarah and I aren't responsible for this shoe story, Jesus is. He loves the little ones. He loves the big ones. He loves the ones caught in between. And He is faithful to provide.
Thank you to everyone who gave to this shoe project. You did the work of our King. You reached further than you'll ever know. It turns out jumping in feet first pays off big time when you know who you're jumping in with. Thanks friends. Thanks Jesus.