Gum has been the downfall of my life and the beginning of my salvation. It was the first thing that caused me to feel the strangling grip of greed. Gum unleashed the black widow that spun webs of deceit in the dark corners of my heart; her pretty legs daintily designed stories of relativism and rationalization that warred with the whispers in my soul that called me a bold faced liar and a thief.
Gum first gripped me with her sticky sweetness when I was three. I had only known her tantalizing savor a few times in my short life, but we fell in love immediately. Because we were often trouble together, we were only allowed to be together with supervision. One golden day full of carefree breezes that belied the trouble to come, gum called to me from my mother’s purse.
“Come taste my juicy fruits, friend. I want to play in your fingers and tangle myself in your hair. Let me dig hoes in your teeth. Together we can annoy everyone with our popping and cracking.”
Napping disobedient woke up in my heart. “What pleasure!” he cried.
My eyes roved the quiet room. I was alone. Compliance began vigorously ringing warning bells in my head, but disobedience quickly turned down her volume and urged me on. “Quickly, before anyone sees,” he urged.
I dug frantically through the purse searching for gum – tossing Kleenex, comb, and coins to the ground. At last I found her lying on the bottom of the purse. Five delectable sticks. Greed guided my fingers, and I quickly unwrapped three pieces and crammed them into my mouth. Sweetness trickled down my throat.
“Julie,” the voice of my mother called for me. Panic began to rise, robbing pleasure of its full expression.
“Spit it out!” compliance ordered.
“Hide it!” deception countered.
“Run!” adrenaline screamed.
Deception won out. “Pretend to be naïve,” it counseled.
“Hi Mom,” I tried to reply coolly as I heard the footsteps approaching. I desperately crammed coins, comb, and Kleenex back into the purse and jammed it behind my back while my heart thumped like racing hooves on cobblestone.
As she appeared in the doorway, I asked in feigned innocence, “Do oo by tance hov a pis of gum?” Three sticks of gum, not yet chewed to completion, made talking difficult.
Suspicion furrowed mother’s brow. “What do you have in your mouth?” she demanded.
“My mouf?” I queried.
“Yes, your mouth.” She held out her hand.
Compliance sighed, “I told you to spit it out,” she chided. I spit the half chewed wad of temptation into Mother’s hand.
Consequences ensued before guilt had even lifted his sleepy head.
The next time gum enticed me, she caught me by surprise. I was beginning an adventure with the neighbor. Paper delivery just as the morning star began to rise. The neighbor teamed up with gum this time.
“Do you have money to buy gum at the five cent store?” neighbor inquired.
“No,” I replied.
I never had any money of my own. It had never even crossed my mind that I might need money of my own. At five years of age, money only belonged to adults.
“Too bad,” neighbor replied.
Gum began to call to me from far away. I heard her distant cry.
“Have you ever had bubble gum?” my neighbor asked.
“What’s bubble gum?” I was surprised. All I knew was Juicy Fruit.
“Oh, bubble gum is the best!” neighbor insisted. “You can blow bubbles! Big pink bubbles that pop and stick on your nose and chin.”
I was intrigued. More to gum than popping and cracking? I could barely believe it.
Vigilant greed heard opportunity calling. She eagerly and hopefully glanced around the kitchen. My mom had a tiny treasure chest full of copper coins – or pennies, if you like. I inched toward the chest. A skull and cross bones warned me off, and a pirate face grinned knowingly from the lid of the chest. I gently lifted the lid and saw the gleaming treasure.
“You are being generous,” rationalization encouraged me. “You are sharing with your friend.”
While my parents slept peacefully until dawn had fully arrived, I escaped out of the back door to deliver papers and meet bubble gum.
Bubble gum was even sweeter than Juicy Fruit. She fascinated me with her bubbles. She, too, loved to stick in my hair when she laughingly popped on my freckled face. In fact, she betrayed me to my mother with her pink remnants left in my golden locks.
When it was discovered how I had achieved the means to buy bubble gum, my father became fearful that I would decide on robbery as a career. Consequences were applied to the area of my body that reminded me of the error of my ways every time I sat down.
When I was seven, bubble gum called to me from the aisles of the five-and-dime. “Do you remember me?” she enticed.
“I have no copper coins,” I told gum.
Gum didn’t care. She begged me to take her. By now I was used to listening to her bewitching voice. She made her way quickly into my pocket. This time, however, guilt came out with cannons and exploded in my soul. The clerk looked at me askance. I was sure she saw the damage guilt was doing to my conscience as I slunk out of the store, but clerk did not stop me. I popped gum quickly into my mouth. The welcome sweetness caressed my taste buds, but guilt did not give in this time. He stormed and screamed. It turned the taste of gum into fear.
“No!” I argued with guilt. “I will not give it up!”
“You stole – again!” guilt shouted.
“Spit it out!” compliance joined guilt.
My jaw joined forces and refused to chew. Gum just sat on my tongue quietly snickering.
“Thief!” Conscience yelled. She finally won. Though the gum was still sweet and barely chewed, I spit her out into the grass. Remorse consumed me.
“You are bad!” my conscience cried.
“Yes, I am bad,” I agreed.
And that was the beginning of my salvation. Realizing that I was capable of being bad. That indeed, bad often won out.
When I was twelve, I met the Creator of gum – and me. He knew everything that I had ever done. He called to me. He radiated light – and something I did not recognize – holiness.
I hung my head. “I cannot come,” I whispered. Hot salty streams poured down my cheeks and dripped off of my chin. “I am bad.”
He looked at me with eyes of compassion. “I know all about gum.” His eyes were deep, murky pools of sadness – and something I recognized from the eyes of my parents – love. “I forgive you your gum trespasses – and all the rest.”
“The rest?” I asked.
He sighed. “Yes, the rest. The rest that you do not yet recognize. I paid for your gum. I paid for the rest.”
Guilt and fear began to shrink into the dark corners.
“Come to me,” Creator called. “I will make the dark places light. I will give you joy.”
Fear tried to hold me back. “No! Don’t go! He is holy. You are bad.”
I looked into his eyes again. He held his hands out to me. Hands with holes. I reached out my hand. He took it and pulled me the rest of the way.
“You are free from guilt now. You are mine,” he reassured me.
The deep pools reflected something new bubbling to the surface. I later learned she was joy. Sweet, wonderful joy.
Gum still entices me to be bad from time to time. “Do not share me with your children,” she calls out to me.
Greed chimes in, “Gum belongs to you! Let your children eat grapes and apples.”
Bad is not yet completely gone, but Creator promises me that one day he will be. Then I will be totally free. Free to be consumed by joy for all of eternity. For Creator daily reminds me that I am His – and gratefully I proclaim – that He is mine.