For a ten year old, I was pretty competent at life.
I planned my outfit every day, down to the hair style and pink choker necklaces (all the rage in the early 2000’s).
I earned stickers from my piano teacher with “excellent!” and puppy dogs on all of my newly memorized pieces.
I actually liked school, and on occasion would insist that my mother give me more work.
I wrote weekly magazines (with ads and everything) cleverly named “The Joynal.” (I must note: Gwennie, my adopted Aunt came up with name. I hadn’t quite mastered the pun at that age).
One of the ways I exercised my overgrown sense of drivenness was through AWANA. Somewhere along the way, I learned that my sister Sarah (11 years my senior) had won the prestigious Timothy award (4 Bible memorization books in two years). Being, as I’ve said, a competent child, and not wanting to be beaten, I took it upon myself to get the Timothy award. And I did!
Truth be told, I don’t really remember much about AWANA, except a great host of memorized Bible verses that still come back to me and that I loved the running games, even though I never won them. I do, however, have one very specific memory that returns me occasionally. A Halloween memory.
It was the Wednesday before Halloween. I was going to dress up as Anastasia. I had a pretty blue dress with gold trimming, and was planning around my coat as Halloween night was predicted to be the first snow fall, as it is predicted to be this year.
We we are all a tizzy, and most of the leaders had given up trying to make us recite our weekly verses, and were instead wearily trying to chorale us little whirlwinds of destruction without much success. That is, until the speaker came.
It’s odd, but I can’t remember the gender of the speaker. All I remember was this persons hands and words.
With deftness and an air of secret knowledge, the speaker walked to the center of the room and plunked a large, well rounded pumpkin on the table. As it landed on the table, it made a hollow echoey plop, and all at once, our squirmy limbs were still and we all turned towards the center of the classroom.
“Our hearts are like pumpkins.”
We giggled which I believe was the desired outcome of these words.
“I think pumpkins are beautiful. They are round and lovely... what a pretty vegetable. God thinks you are beautiful.”
With a dramatic flair, the hands revealed a small knife. Gently but with great purpose, the hands began to cut a neat circle around the stem. We all suppressed little gasps of horror.
“But inside all of our hearts, there is a mess.”
The hands neatly pop off the top.
“We have hurts.”
The bare right hand reached inside.
“We have selfishness.”
A sloshing, squishing noise emanated from the basso profundo pumpkin.
“We have anger.”
The began to raise, and with it came the sound of the moist snapping of the pumpkins innards.
“We have sin.”
With almost a flourish the hand emerged from the belly of the beast, carrying with it seeds and slosh and funny smells.
Ewwww!!! We all screamed squeamed.
“Sometimes our insides are embarrassing and ugly, and we wish that no one else would see us. But God sees us. He sees our ugly.”
With this, the hand reached for another fist full of the squelchy substance and held it aloft.
“But He loves us. And he still thinks we’re beautiful.”
The pumpkin sat as round and lovely as ever, with its unlovely guts beside it like an estranged relative.
“But God loves us too much to leave our beautiful hearts full of hurt...”
From some mysterious pocket the hands produced a scraping tool.
“So, if we let, Him, God’s loving hand will clean out our heart. He will scrape away the ugly. He will make us clean, because he thought we were beautiful all along. Sometimes it hurts because the ugliness has grown to be a part of heart when it was never meant to be. But God is gentle. And He loves us.”
The hands expertly scraped and cleaned till there was a mountains of the stringy mess. Almost without our noticing, the speaker made cuts and dashes and pushed out pieces of pumpkin.
“But when he has made us clean, he does not leave us empty.”
The hands reached for the light switch and off went the lights. Muted sounds permeated the darkness, and then there was a snap and the warm glow of a single flame. The light shed a dull and partial light on the hands as they lowered with the flame into the dark caverns of the pumpkin.
A fervent glow began to light the room.
The hands turned the pumpkin slowly around. From that round old pumpkin shone a golden light from a jack-o-lantern smile.
It was beautiful.
“So remember,” said the speaker with outstretched hands.
“God thinks you’re beautiful. But in his gentle love, he will clean your soul so that instead of hurt, and selfishness, and anger, and sin, you can be filled with light. And beauty. And Love. And Him.”
The hands folded together in an unspoken amen.
I’m told that as a little girl, my mother tried to explain the gospel to me, I looked at her straight in the eye and said with great sincerity:
“Mama. I haven’t sinned and you haven’t sinned, so let’s just stop talking about it.”
As I said, I was a competency driven child. I liked very much the idea of shining for God, but I thought there wasn’t any need to get too mushy about this sin and hurt business. And for this competency driven heart, oh how easy it is to become exasperated.
Shut up and shine, you stupid pumpkin!
But pumpkins don’t shine of their own accord. If you try to stick a candle into the matted mush of a pumpkin, it will be snuffed or catch on fire. And so, though the idea of shining for God is a lovely one, the healing of my heart must precede it. I think my idea of Christianity was a neatly tied box of good works flowing seamlessly from my day of conversion, but truth be told, I’ve found that much of life is the cleaning not the shining.
And so there are days of exasperation. Days of hurt. Days of selfishness. Days when the whole thing seems very unlikely. Days of selfishness. Days of anger. Days of sin. Days where I think "shouldn't I be perfect by now?"
i thought perhaps by now I would be a bit more sanctified, a bit less full of doubts. But God is mindful that we are but dust; He loves and understands our fragile hearts.
These days are not wasteful. They are days spent in the gentle hands of the God who loves me. The God who sees the ugliness that resides in my heart, and instead of turning away in disgust, peers more deeply and with deft and healing hands cleans and heals my soul.
But he does not only pour me out, He fills me up. Where sin and pain were, he fills with light and love. And Him.
The hands and the voice of that long ago Speaker at AWANA taught me.
Though I may not understand and though it may hurt sometimes, I leave my heart to the loving hands of my Father to make me a vessel filled with love, prepared for glory.
Because He loves me and thinks I'm beautiful.
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves" (2 Corinthians 4:7).