When I was growing up in Missouri, our family wasn’t exactly poor, but we used to eat cornflakes with a fork to save milk. Even though we lived somewhere between upper poor and lower middle class, my parents always seemed to have enough to provide us with a summer vacation. I have written about our vacations before. We usually got lost. Each vacation photo ended up with the same word written on the back . . . “somewhere.”
“Look at this picture. It was taken ‘somewhere’ in Colorado. This one was taken ‘somewhere’ in Texas.” Every summer, our destination was always . . . “somewhere.”
I don’t remember when or how this tradition started, but at the start of every vacation, my parents gave their children $5. This seemed like a huge amount, especially back in the late fifties and early sixties (wait a minute: it is still a lot of money!). Anyway, this was our very own money. We could use it to buy something special to eat, souvenirs, or whatever else we wanted.
Looking back, I think my parents were wise. Having our own $5 to spend kept us from hounding them with phrases like, “Can I have this?” a thousand times over. It also taught us money management. At the same time, giving a young boy the grand sum of $5 to spend on anything he wants, no question asked, is a terrible thing to do. I was smart enough to know that if I spent it all at the first stop, I would be penniless for the rest of the trip. I also understood that if I held my $5 to the very last “somewhere,” I might not find anything worth buying. I feared that I would spend the rest of my life regretting my failure to pick up something special . . . “somewhere” back down the road.
What is a boy to do? I don’t know why, but back in those days, souvenir shops like Stuckey’s were dotted across America. You couldn’t drive more than 20 minutes without running into one, and you knew when you were getting close. About a thousand miles out, a giant billboard would start teasing you to get out your money because they had something that you couldn’t live without. These treat-filled stores were especially tempting to a young boy with a five-dollar bill burning in his pocket. They advertised everything from leather moccasins to beef jerky, fireworks to rock candy and the best selection of what-nots in the entire world!
With each stop, my two brothers and I climbed out of the car to see if something inside might intrigue us. Up and down every aisle we went; examining, poking, and prodding to see if we could find something worthy of our investment. I remember the day, at the midpoint of one of our vacations, when I found the gift of all gifts: a ceramic log containing a small bundle of toothpicks. At the end of the log sat a woodpecker, two small sharp spikes protruding from its beak. When you pressed on the woodpecker’s head, it bent over, inserting its spikes into the log and stabbing a couple of toothpicks. When you let go, the woodpecker’s head rose back up, delivering a toothpick or two directly to your outstretched hand.
Growing up in rural America, everyone knew that no meal was complete without a toothpick. My grandfather, father, and all of us boys strolled outside after every meal, each with a toothpick dangling ever so carefully from his lower lip. Life just couldn’t get any better . . . until I discovered the “Woodpecker Toothpick Delivery Device.” I don’t know exactly how long that vacation treasure lasted, but our family used it for years.
Teaching your child to handle money is important. According to Luke 16:11, “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” If you do not equip your children to handle material possessions, they won’t be equipped to handle spiritual truths, either. Mom and Dad, how much you have or don’t have doesn’t really matter. You need to instill in your child the mindset of a steward . . . one who takes care of things.
Teach your children stewardship, and everything else will fall into place. Otherwise, they will end up spending their entire vacation allowance for something as valuable as my Woodpecker Toothpick Delivery Device. I’m sure they’ll find it . . . somewhere.
Father, You are the giver of all good gifts. Teach us to use these gifts for You. Help us as parents to model the qualities of good stewardship for our children. Help us all to be good stewards for . . . You. Amen.