“My youngest daughter was five years old when she came to us via foster care. As we approached our first Halloween together, I noticed that she and her nine year old sister froze in fear each time I mentioned the upcoming holiday. I finally asked the girls if they had ever experienced Halloween before coming to live with us and was horrified by their answer. They took turns telling me about how they had once been given candy for Halloween only to have an adult take the candy and eat it in front of them while making them watch. When the girls began to cry, the adult handed them the brown paper wrappers that had been holding the chocolate peanut butter cups and forced them to eat the empty wrappers — a cruel way to give the girls a literal taste of what they were missing out on that Halloween evening.
With this story in mind, I knew that I needed to approach our first Halloween with them cautiously. My instincts were confirmed when I noticed that the girls were discreetly counting the pieces of candy they received as they walked from house to house in their adorable costumes. When we got home, I pulled out two plastic bags and a black marker and explained to the girls that I wanted them to count their pieces of candy as they put it into the bags. When they finished counting, I helped them label their bags with the precise number of pieces of candy inside and, each time they would eat a piece of candy, I helped them relabel their bags. For weeks after Halloween, despite our assurances that we would not eat their candy, the girls asked if they could recount the pieces before going to bed. I would sit and count their candy with them night after night, earning their trust one lollipop at a time.
That was fall of 2014. They are now adopted and thriving in our home but each October the story of the one Halloween that they were forced to eat empty candy wrappers resurfaces in their young minds. Last night, as I was cleaning up our kitchen after dinner, I noticed my youngest daughter rooting around in the pantry. As I finished wiping down our countertops, she approached me with a bag of candy she had collected while at a recent Halloween event. She had wrapped the bag in a piece of paper and it was clear she was presenting it to me as a gift. As I pulled the piece of paper off the bag, I saw these words scrawled in her sweet third grade handwriting:
‘Mom, I want to give you a taste of how much love I have for you by giving you my candy.’
Let that sink in for a moment. This child, who was once forced to eat empty candy wrappers, went through her bag of Halloween candy to select pieces she thought I would enjoy and then gave them to me as a gift. She didn’t choose her least favorite candies or only pick out one or two pieces to give. She filled a bag full of her very favorite pieces and gave them to me with so much earnest pride on her face that I could cry just typing these words.
You have gifts to offer, too. But, like my daughter and her candy, I’m almost certain that your most valuable gift is connected to deeply rooted pain in your life. You and I have the opportunity daily to make the choice to take the terrible things that have happened to us and turn them into gifts to offer to this hurting world. My daughter’s gift of candy was priceless because of what it cost her. She chose to give despite what had been done to her. What if you and I show that same kind of courage today as we take inventory of our own pain — and allow the bitter to become sweet?”
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