Across the speckled linoleum floor of Room 16 at Martin Park Elementary in 1968 stood a line of 2nd graders waiting to leave for lunch. As they did every day, each boy or girl passed by Mrs. Mullis at the door and answered questions regarding their possession of pennies — not just any pennies — wheat pennies. Mrs. M. came to school each day with a pocketful of non-wheat pennies which she would trade for any wheat pennies clutched in sweaty 7 yr. old palms on their way to be spent on 4-cent cartons of milk in the lunchroom. And the reverse would happen after lunch because, of course, some kids had brought full nickels for milk and would receive a penny in change from the buxom lunch lady who wore a shirt that said in tiny words all over its entire surface: “Bull Shirt.” Yep. Even in 1968. Boulder, Colorado. What can I say?
Here’s a link to a quick article explaining about wheat pennies if you have an immediate need to know.
So dear Mrs. Mullis saw the potential value, the anticipated worth, of what might be rattling around in the bottom of crumpled lunch sacks in Room 16 and made her play. Considering that she probably did this for each and every class she taught over her long career, she must’ve most surely come into quite a payout to pad her PERS retirement from the public school system. Pretty savvy. Or diabolical. Oh well.
“Worth” is a funny word. I’ve always been thankful that English is my native language because it is a quirky thing to try and learn. Next to Mandarin and Navajo I think it takes the cake. Here are a few meanings of “worth,” most of which have little to do with the others.
- Material or market value
- Quality that commands respect
- The quality that renders something desirable, useful, or valuable
- Equal in value to something specified
- A quantity of something that may be purchased for a specified sum
- The total monetary value of a person
- The sentimental value of something
- To the utmost of one’s powers or ability
- That quality of a person or thing that lends importance or value and that is measurable by the esteem in which the person is held
If I were to ask you the worth of a thing or two, or a feeling or two, or a person or two, how might that conversation go? How about this:
“Hey, what’s the Kelly Blue Book on that ’99 Silverado truck in your driveway?”
“Oh, anywhere from $1,000 to $7,500 depending on whether it needs to go to the shop or not.”
“And how about your great-grandma’s collection of Fostoria glassware you’ve got wrapped in paper and stuffed in tubs in your garage? What’s it worth?”
“To me? Or to a collector? To me it’s worth moving around from house to house and never parting with because I loved my great-grandmother and that glass reminds me of her and carting it around equals love in action. To a collector, about 30 bucks.”
“I see. (thinks to self, ‘Who would do such a thing?’)”
“Ok, let’s go deeper. What about your job? What’s your job worth to you?”
“On Mondays or Fridays? Hahahaha. Just kidding. My job. Wow. My job pays my mortgage and my electric bill and my kids’ potential college tuition. It provides me a separate social circle from my home, my church, my softball team, and my neighborhood. I’m pretty popular there. I’m a get-things-done kinda guy. It defines me actually. My job? It’s worth a lot.”
“Now, here’s a biggie. What’s your family worth to you? Take a minute. No, seriously, think about it and don’t answer immediately. Wait. You’re about to answer anyway, aren’t you? Ok. Let me have it.”
“My family? Are you kidding? They are worth everything! It’s impossible to say or put a price on my family. Even if we have troubles or conflicts, man, they’re my kin, my blood, my closest ones on earth. My family? I’d do anything, drop anything, pursue anything, sacrifice anything.”
“How about you? What are you worth?”
“Huh? Can you repeat the question?”
“You, friend. Y-O-U. What are you worth?”
Silence on this topic is not unusual, especially in Christian circles. It is approached with trepidation. There have been quite a few symbolic wrist slaps within the church when the conversation turns to self. We point to the world’s pop psychology touting the need for loving oneself and needing to reach that pinnacle of self-actualization where we understand our particular greatness within the circle of life. It’s been flooding our ears and eyes and homes and schools for so long that it’s become almost second nature to at least subconsciously be looking out for Self at all times. Even Christian authors have gone what some of us might call “overboard” in their attempt to increase the self-esteem, the self-love of Christ followers. The Book of Matthew in the New Testament even says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39b NIV) But friends, if you delve deeply into the study of that passage you’ll learn that within the original language this is not a command but an assumption that we already do love ourselves and therefore act on that understanding in our relationship with others. * Then elsewhere scripture also states, ‘Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; ‘ Philippians 2:3 NASB). So what in the world do we do? How do we proceed?
This is a vast oversimplification of the topic, but suffice to say, it is worth (!) exploring the scripture and its deeper, more accurate meaning at its root and original language regarding our interpretation of self. If you don’t have time to run out and obtain a PhD, please do invest in a good study Bible. Search for answers. It’s satisfying.
So worth. Different from self.
Our own individual worth. Separate from our things and our money and our family. Our personal, intrinsic, God-given, stripped-bare-of-worldly-stuff-and-affiliations, worth.
Our worth as a child of God. Just us. No one else.
Not what we’ve done for good or for bad. Not what we’ve accomplished or not accomplished. Not what we’ve earned or not earned. Not what we’ve created or not created. Not what we’ve destroyed. Not what we’ve damaged. Not whom we’ve treated poorly. Not what we’ve drunk, eaten, swallowed, injected or inhaled. None of that.
Our worth to God is infinitely beyond all of that. Your worth to Him is beyond compare. And if any of the above need addressing and forgiving, that’s what He sent Jesus to do for you. You are worthy to claim His salvation. He is a worthy Savior. You are worthy to receive Him. Simply ask.
If you’ve never heard this song by Anthony Brown, you’re in for a treat. And if you’ve had the fun of singing it with a group, you get it. Oh man. Please watch. Even if it’s not necessarily something you’re familiar with.
What’d I tell you? You’re about to watch it again, aren’t you? Go ahead. Sing.
Now I don’t know about our friend, Mrs. Mullis, as a person . . . I was just a kid with a bad haircut, a constant nauseating fear of math, and the anxiety that I might not have any wheat pennies. Maybe she was a decent humanitarian and loving mother or grandmother. She looked like a great-grandmother to me and we weren’t exactly best buds, so who knows. But you have to hand it to her. She knew worth when she saw it. And went after it.
Be like Mrs. Mullis.
You’re worth it.
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
Matthew 6:26 NASB
3 thoughts on “Wheat Pennies”
Oh my! You’ve done it again! Creative writing at its best.
You are such a creative, interesting and descriptive writer. You TAKE me to where you are writing about. I FEEL it! Thank you for sharing your gift with us. ❤️
Such insight. Thank you.