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  • Tami McCandlish

Stuffed Between Pumpkins

She came to work out. Instead, she spent the hour telling me about what her daughter was going through at school.

I know how to guide a person into their routine, but there are times when people just need to vent. Some call it therapy, and it’s as much of a release for them as exercising.

I empathized as she stood before me, hands flailing, tears surfacing. She reminded me of the many parents I’ve talked to over the years who desperately want to save their children from bullying.

I wished I could fix her problem as easily as I had corrected her squat form, but the only thing I could do was share my story.

I thought I was making an impact, that maybe she could use something I said to encourage her daughter. But her face reddened, and I sensed this was about more than her daughter.

As she told her own story of being bullied, she punctuated her statements with a scolding finger, pointing at no one and everyone who had hurt her years ago.

“I’ll never forgive them for what they did,” she said.

My heart dropped. I knew how she felt, except I had forgiven my bullies when I was nineteen. Now here she was, 40 years old, still secretly wrestling with the pain that surfaced through her daughter’s situation.

I wanted to tell her all of the truths I had learned. Life's too short. Hating others only hurts us. We must love our enemies. But she cut me off, and I didn’t push. She shifted the discussion to her daughter, apologized for “puking on me with her problems,” regathered her life-looks-perfect smile, and headed out the door in a frantic frenzy.

Maybe I should’ve settled for a goodbye at the door, but I followed her to the parking lot for some reason. She opened the back of her vehicle, filled with plastic pumpkins, fall garlands, and wooden pallet signs, and created a space to shove her gym bag.

“Off to Hobby Lobby,” she said.

She had previously admitted to me her habit of buying and returning things like shoes, dresses, and furniture. It’s how she kept on trend, kept up with one of her best friends, the wife of a successful entrepreneur, and decorated her front porch seasonally to impress her neighbors.

I sensed she couldn’t get away from me fast enough because, in that vulnerable moment, life wasn't perfect. It was easier to stuff the past into the back of her Suburban, push a mental return button, and drive into the next thing that would consume her attention.

As she drove away, I couldn't help but think that every time she made herself or her house look pretty, some part of her was sticking it to the kids she went to school with. I wondered if my story had made any impact, if she would read my book, or if it were just another thing she would cram into the back of her Suburban.

She disappeared out of sight, and I knew there was nothing more I could tell her to make her forgive because I had learned that even though God commands us, He never forces us to forgive.

There's no peace in buying and returning things that temporarily decorate and never satisfy. The greatest purchase of all time has already been made, and when we understand it as our most precious keepsake, there is no other choice but to forgive.

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