It wasn’t uncommon for me to suffer disappointment while growing up. My parents came out of the Great Depression, where they were taught that money was scarce, nothing should be wasted, and everything could be repaired.
It was a routine, but horrible experience, to have water added to the ketchup or salad dressing bottle so every last drip could be consumed. She would shake it all together, try to hand it to me, and I refused because I had found it tasted like death.
“Chris, just use it. It’s not that bad.”
Even her head shaking and sighing would not move me. She had stockpiled more, and I knew it. Sometimes she would give in and act as she had just found a brand new bottle that she had “forgotten all about.” Miracles can happen every day if you are stubborn enough.
Besides holding my ground on condiments, I had to beg and plead for her to open the purse strings for anything. If she could find a way to buy something that never needed to be replaced, she was on board. So my request to get a pumpkin at a farm was coloring way out of the lines.
“I want a real pumpkin,” I kept saying day and night, starting in September. This was a tactic that had worked on a few things in the past. But, not always. If I got her to say,
“Maybe,” I knew I was closer to my goal.
Every house in our neighborhood had carved pumpkins on the front steps. She had chosen to buy a plastic one that she could plug in, which she had gotten long before I was on earth. Frugal at its finest.
It didn’t have the personal touch of a kitchen knife in an artist’s imperfect hand. It was a factory-produced, false rendition of something organic, started from a seed, grown in a field. Hers was a far cry from that. The light bulb had started to burn off some of the original orange paint. But, to no avail, she got it out every single year, which killed my chances of getting a real one.
The year I had given up, feeling that she was not going to budge an inch, she took me by total surprise and said,
“I think it would be fun to go to a pumpkin patch.”
I could not believe it! I acted as if it was not a big deal, but it was. We made the drive to the nearest place.
I walked through rows and rows of them, trying to decide which one would be mine. Because of the age gap between my siblings and me, I was the only kid in the age bracket to find this experience exciting. All my energy and wear-down approach had finally paid off in fourth grade.
I carried my selection to the person who she would pay. She suddenly noticed the sign stating the price per pound. I hadn’t chosen the largest one I could have, but her default kicked in once it hit the scale.
“That’s way too much. I’m not going to spend that.”
The guy dressed like a farmer looked at her and then at me. I could not believe that she was actually going to back out now.
“Is that the real price?” She asked. I could tell that the “fun” part was being sucked out of it.
“No, thank you. Chris, let’s go.”
I had been so close! The guy glanced over at me again with very sympathetic eyes. It wasn’t until that moment I realized I shouldn’t be happy. I had been denied so many other things so often that my ability to feel sadness had been curtailed. I was supposed to accept that whatever she did or said would produce no emotional response on my part.
I had become really good at it, but I also made a vow to myself that once I had children, I would never do to them what had been done to me. Or at least try not to.
So whether it was acceptable or not, I took my girls to get pumpkins in the fall. The stigma of doing so and going against what was presented as evil in the church’s eyes didn’t stop me. I read all the literature and folklore about its practice and decided that God knew my heart. I wasn’t doing this to ward off mischievous spirits or engage in the dark arts. I was trying to heal something from my past.
It worked as I watched them produce some of the most beautiful pieces of art I had ever seen. Somewhere in their DNA, they were awarded the ability to draw and create things I had never been given. Scribbling out a stick figure is a challenge for me.
One year, my youngest daughter decided to spraypaint her pumpkin. She had seen the idea somewhere and decided that this was something she wanted to try. She purchased a can of purple glitter spray and covered the entire thing. It turned out very professional looking.
The only thing was that it never occurred to us to put it outside in the cold air to preserve it. Day after day, it sat in the house looking like a royal piece of artistry straight out of a fairy tale, subjected to a warm environment. One night I noticed a strange smell. Why this always befalls me, I do not know.
“Is that your pumpkin starting not to smell so great?” I asked as it was in the air drifting and becoming more fragrant. Pumpkin in a can of spray is nowhere near this natural one.
“Maybe,” she said.
Both of us approached it warily. I have learned the hard way that once something makes its presence known by way of a foul odor, you have to think before reacting. I had been the unfortunate recipient of cleaning out the refrigerator and unearthing containers that held contents that once had good intentions of being used later. Refried beans are not your friend on day 237. And by all means, do not hastily remove the lid unless you are right over the garbage with a hazmat suit securely fastened.
Now we stood in front of the most magical looking pretty display, trying to decide which one of us was going to pick it up. She knows she can outlast me, so of course, it would be me.
All that glitters on the outside is not necessarily a good representation of what is really going on.
When I slowly moved it, I immediately saw the mold that started at the base and rapidly spread. Pieces of paint were falling off in the back as the green fuzz was making its attack. She leaned in to get a better look, and I turned it so she could see how bad it was. Right as I did, an enormous black spider jumped out from its hiding place, trying to dodge being squished into the afterlife.
I heard her scream, and when I looked, she was long gone, just like the spider.
I could not stop laughing.
“Where did it go?” She said from the farthest corner of the house.
“I don’t know.” Dreaded words for one who is terrified of things that crawl.
I had to throw away the decayed piece of produce, and she spent days looking over her shoulder for the escapee.
God can bring resolution to the biggest and smallest of pain. And heaven has a way of providing it in the most perfect of ways. Even if the person who hurt you never apologizes, fractures can be mended. It may come in the form of a funny moment or a simple word spoken like this one in Psalm 71:20,
Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth, you will again bring me up. (NIV)
In addition, this is a steadfast promise of God’s faithfulness from Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages up their wounds.” (NLT)