I'm not who I was.
Stuffed amidst the clutter of my desk drawer, I found this box of pencils. It must have been a purchase intended for the fulfillment of J’s school supply list from back in the days when she attended public school. Because let’s be honest: we have so many stray, free, and creatively decorated pencils from various and sundry party bags that I would have no good reason to actually spend money on a box of plain yellow ones, aside from the fact that school supply shopping would have dictated for me to do so.
To be doubly honest, J writes with mechanical pencils anyway.
During her three-year stint of public education, I volunteered at J’s school once a week. In her second grade year especially, one of my primary jobs was to sharpen pencils. These teachers nowadays, they’ve thought of everything. When I was a kid, breaking pencils on purpose just for an excuse to get up out of my seat in order to obtain the procurement of necessary sharpening was one of my primary school-day strategies of
avoiding work wiggling around survival:
Gone are the days of the Popples lunchbox (with matching thermos), thumbs-up-seven-up, milk money, eraser beating (hallelujah), and manual pencil sharpeners.
Now, the teachers implement mastermind strategies such as keeping baskets full of pre-sharpened pencils on hand at all times. And they are all yellow, so nobody fights over or peruses through which pencil they want more.
Of course, as volunteer pencil-sharpener extraordinaire, I had the benefit of employing the coveted industrial electric pencil sharpener. Although my technology was newer, improved, and overall more efficient, it wasn’t without the frustration of those pencils that just. wouldn’t. sharpen. With some pencils, I could sharpen until I’ve shredded an entire tree’s worth of wood, and the lead would still do nothing more than break the whole way down. (Side note: I have never understood the people who prefer to write with pencil nubs.)
Due to my extensive pencil sharpening experience (try not to be jealous), I can look at this picture of the box of pencils and tell you exactly which pencils I would want to use and which pencils I wouldn’t even bother dealing with, even before they are sharpened. Bottom left: A-ok. Bottom right: no-stinkin’-way.
It’s the substance and alignment of the stuff inside that determines its breaking point. The more off-center the lead, the more easily it breaks under pressure, and the less useful it is for its purpose. If what’s pouring into the development of the pencil is off, the whole pencil gets off kilter, and the ill-effects reach beyond the solitary pencil.
If you want your life story to write long and strong, it’s in how you prepare what’s on the inside. No matter where you come from, you will have to be sharpened in order to fulfill your purpose. That which is dull and no longer beneficial will have to be pruned to make way for new growth in new seasons. The internal influences what will be produced from the external circumstances: whether you will break or build, scrap or scrawl. But even just a hunk of broken up lead on a hopeless path can be given new insides with a hopeful future. When God makes beautiful things out of your dust, don’t waste it by being whole and lovely to look at but remaining tucked away in your safe places. That serves no-one: not you, not God, not others. Don’t paralyze the piercing that unleashes the potential to produce the promise.
(Wow, that was a lot of alliteration. Say that 10 times fast.)
In the meantime, enjoy how pencils are made: