For most kids, Halloween is a fun-filled holiday trademarked by trick-or-treating, adorably creepy costumes and copious amounts of candy. The one night a year that parents let their little ones stock up on as many Reese’s, Skittles and Snickers as the generous neighbors will allow is a memory that is favorably seared in the mind of every child.
…Or so foster mom, Amy Beth Gardner, thought.
Facebook/Photo courtesy of Arlyne VanHook
Until her 5-year-old and 9-year-old foster children enlightened her to the horrific events that unfolded on the only Halloween they ever got to celebrate—if you could call it that.
In a viral Facebook post, Amy Beth tells the stomach-sickening story of how her now-adopted daughters were forced to eat the wrappers after an adult cruelly ate every last piece of their candy in front of their faces. The scars that moment left on her little girls’ hearts totally broke Amy Beth, who made it a point to earn back their shattered trust ONE piece of candy at a time.
Facebook/Photo courtesy of Arlyne VanHook
Three years later, Amy Beth’s diligence in mending their hearts back together through a simple Halloween tradition led to a miraculous change in her youngest daughter that manifested in the SWEETEST way possible—leaving this mom with a poignant life lesson that she just couldn’t afford to keep to herself:
“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?”
Amy Beth’s story is a sobering reminder of the way God uses our suffering to perfect His power in our weakness, so that we may fulfill our whole purpose. What Satan intended for evil—that her daughters be damaged forever by a Halloween-candy horror story—God turned around to use for good, by utilizing the same thing that traumatized them to redeem them.
I pray we all carry this sound bite of Amy Beth’s wisdom with us today: “Your most valuable gift is connected to deeply rooted pain in your life.”
How will you use your pain to make His glory known to a hurting world? Cheers to this brave little girl for showing us exactly how it’s done.