When I was living at home, there were several stretches when my dad didn’t take his salary because the church was having trouble paying the bills. A time or two, this went on for months, but I only found out afterwards (and by accident) what the family had endured. We had food on the table, and I never saw any letters from the bank stamped in red.
Being a dad now, I can look back and see some of the strain my dad carried. But he never let on. Our house didn’t traffic in glum. Whenever I’d ask dad about money problems, he’d say, “God will take care of us, Winn.” That was it, God will take care of us.
Hearing this refrain, my sister Vonda decided she wanted to give an extravagant gift to God, something that would cost her dearly and require great faith. My sis was four, and she didn’t give a hoot about money. Bubble gum, however, was her gold bullion. So one Sunday, with firm resolve, she carried her treasured pack of Bubble Yum to church. When the deacon brought the collection to our row, Vonda set her face like flint and solemnly pulled the pack from her pocket and placed it in the plate. Even the widow with the mite would have stood hushed.
Months later (which is like decades to the four-year-old memory), our family was in St. Augustine, Florida, touring the grounds of the Mission of Nombre de Dios, built in 1565 as one of the first Spanish missions in the new world. Near the old ivy-covered stone chapel stood a shrine of the Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus. My dad walked with Vonda, hand-in-hand, until she stopped abruptly. Vonda stepped closer to the statue and, with hands resting on her hips, spoke directly to the babe: “Jesus, what did you do with that bubble gum? You eat it?” We give, but we do not forget.
One more thing you should know from this story: back on the afternoon of that Sunday when Vonda made her momentous gift, a women dropped by our house. She knocked on the door, and when my mom answered, the woman handed mom a bag. “I was at the grocery story,” she said, “and remembered how much Vonda likes gum. I thought Vonda should have this.” In the Kroger bag was a family pack of bubble gum, totaling forty or fifty sticks of awe and pleasure for my sister.
You can say coincidence if you want. Maybe. And certainly God is no bubble gum machine. But I imagine God bent over, with great jowls of laughter, as Vonda buried her hands in piles of gum knowing, in ways only a four-year-old can, that God will take care of us.